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Archive for January, 2010

Hindu and Greek/Roman Pantheons

Posted by desicontrarian on January 12, 2010

There are remarkable parallels between Hindu,  Greek and Roman Gods.

Some definitions are needed before we proceed.

At least in Vedantic Hinduism, there is only “The One”, Parabrahman. He is incorporeal, formless.  He wills to become Many, and so creates the Trinity, Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva. They are aspects of Him. There is no difference between them, being the closest to Parabrahman. They represent Creation, Sustenance and Dissolution. They also represent the triune nature (triguNaatmaka) of everything, like

a) Positive, Negative and Neutral

b) Sattva(Goodness),  Rajas(Energy) and Tamas(Inertness)

c) Sat(Truth),  Chit(Conciousness), Ananda(Bliss)

d) Knowledge,  The Knower and The Known

e) Perception,  The Perceiver and the Object of perception and so on.

For example, when I taste a mango, I am the taster, the mango is the object of taste, and the tasting is the process. Similarly the other 4 senses.

There is also a division by Gender, so we have something called Prakruthi and Purusha. We also call it Brahma-Saraswathi, Shiva-Parvathi and Vishnu-Lakshmi.  Prakruthi is Change, Purusha is Changeless.

Out of these Primary Beings, come the Suras and the Asuras.  They are children of Prajapati Brahma by his two wives Adithi and Dithi. According to Shri Aurobindo, Adithi means Undivided Consciousness, Dithi means Divided Consciousness. (Aside:I find this statement enchanting. The origin of evil is explained here – divided consciousness. Of course, Vedantins actually say ignorance, not evil. In Europe and Christianity, the philosophers seem to be struggling with The Problem of Evil.)

Suras are what we call Gods in Greek terminology. Asuras are Demons.

We also have the 4 elements, Earth, Water, Fire and Air (These are NOT the elements of modern chemistry).  They are called Prithvi, Jala, Agni and Vaayu. The cosmic forces representing these are Agni, Varuna and Vayu.

Prithvi is the field of operation both for Suras and Asuras.  There is a 5th  element called Akaasha (Space or Ether).  These elements are more like states of matter in modern terminology.

Indra is the King of Gods. His equivalent in the Greek Pantheon(GP) is Zeus. Jupiter in the Roman Pantheon (RP).

VaruNa is the ruler of the sea.  Poseidon in GP.  Neptune in RP.

Yama is the lord of Death and the underworld.  Hades in GP.  Pluto in RP.

Manmatha is the God of Love.  Eros in GP.  Cupid in RP.

Saraswathi becomes Athena, the Goddess of wisdom. She is Minerva in RP.

Rathi (Manmatha’s consort) becomes Aphrodite in GP. Venus in RP.

Like Ganesha in Hindu pantheon(HP),  Apollo is the God of music and poetry in GP/RP.

Soma is moon and god of drink in HP.  Dionysius is the God of wine and ritual in GP.  Bacchus in RP.

Artemis is the Goddess of forests in GP. She is Diana in RP. She may be called Vanadevi in Hindu Pantheon.

Ares is the God of war in GP.  Mars in RP. He may be Skanda in HP, as well as Kuja, one of the Nava Grahas.

The Pleiades are 7 sisters, called the Kritthika constellation in Hindu astrology.

The more interesting parallels are in the epics.  Iliad is a Greek epic about the war between Greek kingdoms and Troy in Asia minor.  Helen, the wife of Menelaus, elopes with Paris, the junior prince of Troy.  Menelaus and his brother Agamemnon gather all warriors of the Greek kingdoms to avenge the insult.  It includes Ulysses and Achilles and they sail to Troy and wage war for 10 years.  They finally conquer Troy by means of a trick.

The parallels are not exact, but the loss of Seetha seems to be similar to the loss of Helen. Helen is also similar to Draupadi in beauty and the object of all men’s desire. The difference is that she is not chaste.

Achilles has an invulnerable body, except for his heel. As a a child, his mother Thetis dipped him in the river Styx to make all parts of his body immortal, except for the heels.  This reminds me of Gandhari making Duryodhana diamond-hard in all parts of the body except the thighs.  Achilles is gifted with great skills in sword-fight and archery.  He is born with a body-armour, like KarNa in Mahabharata. He is also unbeatable in battle, like Bheema or Arjuna.

Ulysses is the smartest and wisest of the Greeks. It is he who thinks of the Trojan Horse trick. He is also called Odysseus and there is another Greek epic Odyssey, which occurs during his return from the Trojan war. He is similar to KrishNa, as well as Shakuni!  When Achilles, following a dispute with Agamemnon, refuses to fight the war, Ulysses initiates an “embassy” to persuade Achilles to return. The attempt fails. Here there are parallels to KrishNa’s embassy with Duryodhana and KarNa’s refusal to fight the war under Bheeshma.

Take a look at the Greek pantheon’s family tree here!  As you can see,  many of these gods and goddesses are personifications of cosmic forces. The root God(dess) is Chaos.  This is similar to the Nasadiya Suktam in the Rg Veda.

The gods are also metaphors for concepts,  like fate,  death,  love, sleep, wisdom etc.   Studies of parallels can be endless, and they show that the ancient cultures had a lot in common.  They were not isolated from each other, rising and falling on disconnected lands and times.

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