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My Analysis of Hindu Myths
|by Gaurang Bhatt, MD|
... and a Tribute to their Unknown Genius Authors
Wendy Doniger, a controversial academic, who is a professor at University of Chicago, has written a recent tome titled Hindus: An Alternative History. Her criticisms include a lack of a definitive ethical stance in many of Hindu myths and scriptures, labeling Krishna, a warmonger and psychosexual distortions of Ganesh’s trunk. The book also has praise for Hinduism and is a defense of her criticisms and justification for the rights of non-Hindu Sanskrit and religious scholars to analyze and voice their opinions. It seems to me that she is barking up the wrong tree. One of the prime motivations behind Hindu myths and scriptures was to mold and guide the behavior of the masses, ignorant, unthinking and of limited intelligence.
The purpose behind that was establishment of authority, civic order and to perpetuate and consolidate the privileged status of the elite. History shows that such motives are ubiquitous in all human civilizations as exemplified by the teachings of Confucius and the analysis of Chomsky and Herman in Manufacturing Consent. Since the human mind is evolutionarily susceptible to storytelling, the myths and scriptures also served to entertain and inform the masses. The death sentence of Chandra, the moon for his immense favoritism towards Rohini (a constellation), only one of his twenty-seven wives and its later commutation for waxing, waning, (periodic death and rebirth) was to help the ignorant masses internalize the phases of the moon by a confabulating left cerebral hemisphere (interested readers may read the Split Brain Studies by Sperry, for which he got the Nobel Prize). Many such stories explained natural events and animal appearances and were parlayed unto wealth and fame by Rudyard Kipling in his famous “Just So Stories”.
The unending battle between good and evil, a foundation of Zorastrianism (where the devas are demons and the Asura or Ahura is the god), incorporated into Buddhism as the stories of the battles with Mara, and the rebellion and fall of Satan in Christianity, begin with the Hindu myth of Kashyapa and the children of his two wives Diti (whose children are the Daityas or demons) and Aditi (whose children are the Adityas, devas or gods). The epic battle between Indra and his Vajra (the Greek equivalent being Zeus and his thunderbolt and the Roman being Jupiter derived from Zeus-pater or godfather) ends in exsanguination and death of the demon Vritra. It is a metaphor for the benign godly forces of lightning striking the dark clouds (demons) and their bleeding and death giving the rejuvenating rain which brings relief from heat and promotes life giving food crops to the parched earth and mankind.
There is however a more important subliminal message in the Hindu myth of Indra and Vritra. The dead Vritra is a Brahmin and the killing of a Brahmin is such an unforgivable sin that Indra, the chief of the gods is required to do a thousand year penance by Brahma. Note the etymology of Brahma, the creator, Brahman, the unified god spirit and Brahmin, the highest caste and the repository of knowledge. Hinduism, unlike democracy in America, contrary to Lincoln’s words, is a religion of the Brahmins, by the Brahmins and for the Brahmins. It is because of its exploitative history over the eons in India, that their arose the unbelieving Charvakas, Jainism, Buddhism, the Bhakti margas including Sikhism and the Arya Samaj.
Thus many of the myths and scriptures of Hinduism are meant to justify and perpetuate the primacy of Brahmins and their monopoly on rituals to appease souls, ward off evil and celebrate auspicious occasions like birth and marriage, and were meant to be a source of regular income and to hold the ignorant masses, made superstitious by stories, in a permanently captive state. Similar exalted positions were offered to the Guru or preceptor as in the shloka (stanza) gurur Brahma, gurur Vishnu, guru devo Maheshwara, tasmai gururdevaya namo. The preceptor is Brahma, the creator, Vishnu, the sustainer and even Shiva, the destroyer and hence I bow to the preceptor who is a god.
Parents are given the highest place. Another myth is the competition between the two brothers Ganesha and Kartikeya for the brides Siddhi and Riddhi. They are asked by their parents to circumvent the universe and the winner who is the fastest would get the brides. The mode of transport of Ganesha is a mouse and for Kartikeya is a peacock, putting Ganesha at a massive disadvantage. Kartikeya flies off from the start. Ganesha asks his parents to sit together and merely goes round them and claims that circumambulating the parents is the equivalent and even superior to going round the universe. Ganesha wins the contest.
There was importance given to the mother as in the verse “Janani, janmabhumischa swargaadapi gariyasi”. Mother and motherland are higher than even heaven. It was still a male chauvinistic civilization and the father, as the male, was supreme, as in the story of Parshurama. He was the son of Jamadagni and Renuka. Jamadagni was severely annoyed by Renuka on one occasion and ordered his son Parshurama to execute his mother. Parshurama obeyed and Jamadagni pleased with the proverbial obedience then offered a boon to his son. Parshurama asked that his mother be restored to life and it was done.
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