Random Thoughts

My Analysis of Hindu Myths

... 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.

A similar Greek myth is the return of Persephone to her mother earth, Demeter from her six months sojourn to her husband Hades’ underworld. The dark winter of a snow-covered earth is replaced by the blossoming earth of spring at the joy of the returning lost daughter.

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.

This, like the story of Kelaiya, is what really annoys Wendy Doniger about Hindu myths. I understand her point of view but she misses the point.

When I asked my children raised in America to read the poem Casabianca and what they thought of it, they unanimously railed at the stupidity of the boy who continued to stand on the burning deck, instead of saving himself. They get their point of view from Woody Allen in the movie Antz. Why then, should American soldiers go to their deaths in Iraq or Afghanistan to perpetuate the power and privileges of Bush, Obama and the elite. Confucius made the allegiance to the parents and the sovereign inviolable, and Hobbes wrote the Leviathan, because in the absence of law, order and authority, the law of the jungle (what the ancient Hindus called Matsyanyaya - the law of the fishes would prevail, hence Manu, the law giver) and life would be nasty, brutish and short.

The unresolved problem is “Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?” (who has custody of the custodians). Certainly not Plato, the Supreme Court or Wendy Doniger.

Continued to Hindu Myths Analyzed


More by :  Gaurang Bhatt, MD

Top | Random Thoughts

Views: 3440      Comments: 6

Comment Dr. Bhatt, I will have to agree with the earlier commenter 'This time it is apparent the ever knowledgeable Mr Bhatt is treading on uncharted territory.' I would add that as much as you seemed to know the Hindu myths.. your knowledge about Hindu Dharma itself seems half baked.

06-Dec-2010 02:27 AM

Comment Ignorance is bliss!

01-Sep-2010 05:56 AM

Comment Mr.Bhat has ventured into writing about Hinduism without reading much about it. To start off it is not "gurur Brahma, gurur Vishnu, guru devo Maheshwara, tasmai gururdevaya namo. " It is "gurur Brahma, gurur Vishnu, guru devo Maheshwara, guru saksath parabramha tasmai sri guruve namaha".

Also, if hinduism is by the brahmins, for the brahmins,of the brahmins, then how come the 2 most revered texts Ramayana and Mahabharatha were written by non-brahmins (Valmiki was a hunter and Veda Vyasa was only half brahmin born to Parashara a brahmin sage and a fisher woman). How come all the hindus irrespective of the caste and creed revere the Gita, which was first told by Krishna to Arjuna, both being non-brahmins.

In his eagerness to show Wendy is barking up the wrong tree, Mr.Bhat has exposed his ignorance about hinduism.

Moral of the story, do not write on a subject something that you have no idea about.

30-Aug-2010 12:43 PM

Comment It is always nice to see intelligent comments even if they are critical. It is true that ideally Brahmins are supposed to be non-discriminatory in imparting knowledge, but then what about the myths of Eklavya and Drona, and Parshurama and Karna. It is of course defended on the basis that even in giving Dana (charity), it is the responsibility of the giver to see that the recipient is appropriate (yogya---from yukta, yoga, like in yoked in English--- for prapti). Of course the caste system came after the original Hinduism, but by assigning the mouth as the origin of the Brahmin, as opposed to the feet for the Shudra, discrimination has already been established. I understand that the more smart and knowledgeable deserve greater attention but all must have the same voting power. The reality of life as Orwell said beautifully is that while all persons are created equal, some are more equal than others. Which Hinduism are we talking about? The first primitive documented one from the treaty in the Hittite language with Indra and Varuna as supreme gods, after the defeat of the Mitanni kingdom in Syria around the mid-second millenium BCE, which may have led the first migrants to end up in Sumer from where the Hindus and Hebrews got the story of the flood (or did that come from the even earlier migration from the southern shores of the Black Sea, a then fresh water lake flooded by the salty Mediterranean sea), or their separation from fellow Aryans (like Zarathushtra-the yellow or old camel) who called the devas demons and their supreme god Ah(S)ura Maz(h)da, the casteless Hinduism of the first nomadic cattle owning Aryans as in the earliest part of the Rid Veda where there are no hereditary castes and where "Grama" means wagons or chariots and hence Sangrama is literally and meaningfully war or circling of the wagons as along the Oregon trail or the monotheistic Hinduism of the Upnishadas part of the Veda or agnostic middle of the Rig Veda, where the author says who knows how the universe was created, perhaps the creator knows, perhaps even he does not know! or the ritual laden Hinduism where detailed measurements and prescriptions for the Vedic altars with simulated copulation with a dead horse is performed by the queen in the Ashwamedha sacrifice, or the polythesistic all encompassing politically convenient form of Hinduism which amalgamated the local god Pashupatinath and made him Mahadeva and together with unrestrained libido led to the current India and Hinduism or the renunciation emphasizing Hiduism from which sprang Jainism and Buddhism or the Karmayoga of the Gita or the Bhaktiyoga of Surdas, Tukaram, Kabir and Nanak or the most widely prevalent mumbo jumbo of today where we worship snakes, trees, and the godesses of measles and smallpox instead of being vaccinated?

Rituals begin as a figment of someone's imagination but like NGOs, government departments and bureaucracies, take on a life of their own and become self-sustaining and growing malignancies to the detriment of the organism or nation that they are a part of and were meant to assist or regulate, unless they have a powerful Leviathan controller and hence who shall guard the guardians? Evolution has an answer for it. It is called apoptosis or the suicide pill and a generally incorruptible regulator called the immune system but even it fails and that is why we get autoimmune diseases and cancer. As to Brahma and why he is not worshipped is the so called incestuous pursuit of his daughter Saraswati. That and other mistakes led to his Nemesis, Shiva cutting off one of his heads just as Rudra attacked Prajapati for evil thoughts about Usha. Incidentally Greek mythology has Athena, the goddess of wisdom was also born of her father zeus and without a mother. These myths and the similarities between Sanskrit and European languages maybe strong evidence for migration of all these peoples from the Ukrainian shores of the Black Sea where the horse was first domesticated. Read the book "The Horse, The Wheel & Language by David Anthony.---gaurang

gaurang bhatt
30-Aug-2010 10:11 AM

Comment 'Sarva jano sukhino bhavanthu'says Sruthi not 'Brahmano sukhino bhavanthu'. Brahmins are required to live with humility not ostentation. They are prohibited from making money by selling their knowledge. They must teach anybody who seeks knowledge and learn from anybody who possess knowledge irrespective of caste and position. Sukracharya,the guru of asuras, accepts Kachcha,son of Brahaspathi,the deva guru,as his diciple, despite knowing Kachcha will use that knowledge to destroy his base. Rishi Konkana learns Dharma from Dharmavyadha,a butcher.Show me one popular brahmin God or Goddess.
Rama is Kshathriya. Krishna is Yadava. Shiva has no caste. Brahma,supposed to be the perceptor of brahmins is not worshipped at all.Parvathi is a hill tribal.Lakshmi is a daughter of ocean so may be a fisher woman. Where is the Brahmin God?

30-Aug-2010 01:56 AM

Comment This time it is apparent the ever knowledgable Mr Bhatt is treading on uncharted territory. There are many inaccuracies in his piece. Hinduism is NOT a religion of, by and for the Brahmins alone. It is one of the most inclusive religions. . Hinduism is also not just a series of rituals for Brahmisn to hold on to power; there are many, many layers of this ancient faith, also called Sanatan Dharma, much more than Mr Bhatt is putting forth in this piece.

Ganesha and Kartikeya do not compete for the brides Ridhi and Sidhi; their bone of contention was the apple of knowledge. Mr Bhatt rambles about Guru, the importance of Mother and Motherland, and male chauvinsm, all in one breath.

Let us see what Mr Bhatt has in store for us in his sequel.

29-Aug-2010 16:04 PM

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