A Blog on Mythology and occasionally on Reality.

This is a Blog on Mythology, both Indian and World and especially the analysis of the myths.

In effect, the interpretation of the inherent Symbolism.


Monday, February 28, 2011

Norse Mythology – Ragnarok

Ragnarok, (meaning “Twilight of the Gods” in Old Norse) in Norse mythology, was the predestined death of the gods. A three-year winter (Fimbulvetr meaning “Extreme Winter”) led to a final battle, where the gods and the frost giants fought the epic final battle. Ragnarok marks the end of the old world, and the beginning of the new, current world.

Odin, who had previously attempted to prevent Ragnarok from occurring, led the gods. They were assisted by the heroic dead, those who had died in glorious battle and had been taken to live in Valhalla and await the final battle. The frost giants were led by the fire god Loki and assisted by the unworthy dead who came from Hel, and by other monsters.

The wolves Guilt and Hate catch the Sun and the Moon and swallow them. The stars disappear and the earth is dissolved in total darkness. The World Serpent who had been gnawing at the roots of the World Tree emerged from the waves, spewing poison all over the world, leading to a gigantic flood on earth. As the sea came to engulf the land, on it came a ship with Loki leading a group of giants. The ship was supposed to have been built out of uncut nails of dead men.

Odin knew that the end was near. During the massive battle, he gets swallowed by a giant wolf, which gets later gets killed by Odin’s son, as an act of revenge. Thor goes out to battle and manages to kill all, including the, but was overwhelmed by its deadly poison, which killed him ultimately. One by one all the gods and goddesses fell like nine pins and soon all gods and humans had perished after a pitched battle between the gods, giants, mortals and forces of nature.

Ragnarok is a scene of chaotic violence in which the fate of all races, all beings, is decided. The halls of the dead are emptied, as is the plain of Hel. All who have died, whether honorably or not, are brought back for a violent war. All creatures and races alive during that time are drawn to the field of battle and will fight, and die. All the gods and giants appear, and fight and the far majority of them die. Every human being except for two (which also means every single human in the culture who listened to this tale) die. Even those who were raised from Valhalla die again.

The picture of intense cold as a background for mounting fire and smoke rising to the stars, in conjunction with a tidal wave which engulfed the inhabited land, may have drawn much of its vigour and terror from such remembered catastrophe.

But as they say, every cloud has a silver lining. Amid the destruction, two humans were saved as they had taken refuge in the World Tree, who go on to start the world all over again.

The myth of destruction could have its influence from many Eastern myths, where a myth of destruction has been a common feature. This could have been used to depict the end of the Viking era, though one can’t deny the influence of the pre-Christian myths of destruction too.

Ragnarok is based on a famous poem Voluspa. Voluspa itself may have been inspired partly by the experience , either first hand or from vivid accounts from those who had witnessed it, of a major volcanic eruption in Iceland, such as we know took place at frequent intervals in historic times.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Uncle Pai

Everybody’s favourite Uncle Pai is no more. He has got a call from the gods, after telling us their stories for more than 5 decades. May his soul rest in peace.

Anant Pai, Uncle Pai to millions, was the creator of the famous Amar Chitra Katha (ACK) and Tinkle comics. Way back in the late 60s, he started the ACK series when he saw a quiz programme, in which Indian children could answer questions from Greek Mythology, but could not give the name of Rama’s mother.

Thanks to him millions, like me, could lend faces to the numerous gods and demons from our mythology. A fair-complexioned Ram, bluish Krishna, doe-eyed goddesses and dark coloured demons, he etched the characters in every impressionable mind with such ease. My initial familiarity with Indian Mythology was thanks to Uncle Pai. The numerous myths associated with our mythology, sans all the intricacies was so beautifully told, that a child’s mind would crave for more. It is this craving that made some of us go in for further reading and exploring more of our mythology.

With time, ACK added to its repertoire freedom fighters, philosophers and even events like the Jalianwala Bag tragedy, etc. The content was just right for a young mind which gave one both the knowledge and awareness along with the appreciation of one’s heritage and history. In a world of Walt Disney comics, Phantom and Mandrake series along with Tintin and Asterix, ACK stood its ground and I dare say, stood way above all of them.

On his passing away, I on behalf of millions of Indians would like to salute him. Once again, May his soul rest in Peace.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Norse Mythology – Construction of the Wall of Asgard

The story goes that once a man by the name of Hrimthurs claimed to the gods that he could build the walls within a single winter, but for a price. If he completed, then the gods would have to give him the Sun and the Moon for compensation as well as Freyja for a wife. 

Loki was convinced that he could never finish them on time and got the gods to accept the wager. What the gods did not know was that Hrimthurs could do so, since he wasn’t a human. He was actually a giant and had a magical horse called Svadilfari. This horse could move huge blocks with magical ease.

When the winter was just about coming to an end, Hrimthurs had nearly completed the task on hand. The gods realised they were in trouble and that they would have to part with the prised possession of the Sun and Moon and above all, the goddess Freyja. All the gods approached Loki to bail them out, since it was anyway he who had convinced them into this.

Loki, true to his self, changed himself into a beautiful mare and went on to distract Hrimthurs horse, Svadilfari. Svadilfari began to chase Loki who was in the form of a mare, leaving Hrimthurs to fend for himself! Without the horse, he could not complete his task and lost the wager. When Hrimthurs come to know of the truth, he threatened to destroy his work, and in his rage, he lost his disguise, revealing to all that he was no human but a giant.

Odin Riding the eight-legged Sleipner

 Thor was very angry at this and struck him with his mighty hammer, killing him instantly. Few months’ back Loki brought to Asgard an eight-legged colt named Sleipner, which was the offspring of Svadilfari and Loki as the mare. Sleipnir became the magical steed of Odin when it grew up and was a constant companion of Odin.

This Nordic myth has similarities to the Indian myth of amrut-manthan, where the demons disguise as gods to drink the nectar (as compared to the giant disguising as human here) to achieve immortality (here to gain the Sun, Moon as well as goddess Freyja). In the amrut-manthan, Vishnu disguises as Mohini to distract the demons, and here we have Loki disguised as a mare to distract the giant’s stallion. Just as the union of the horse and Loki as the mare gives birth to an eight-legged horse, Sleipnir, which becomes dear to Odin, in amrut-manthan we have seen, how the union of Shiva and Vishnu as Mohini gives birth to Lord Ayappa!

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Norse Mythology – Yggdrasill, the World Tree

Yggdrasill or the World Tree is a tree which supports the universe, with its roots connecting the nine Nordic worlds. Notable amongst all the worlds are Asgard, Valhalla, Midgard and Hel. Besides the worlds, there are three wells too. Before we move ahead, let us understand the worlds as per the tree.

Asgard was the home of the Gods. The only entrance to the Asgard was                        thru the “Rainbow Bridge”. The red arc in the rainbow stood for burning fire – to                               make it impassable for the Giants, since they were made of Frost and also known as the Frost Giants. Asgard was home to all gods and goddesses and each one had his or her own palace. Amongst all the halls in Asgard, the most important of all was Valhalla.

Valhalla is Odin’s hall in Asgard and is considered to be the best one in. Valhalla literally means the “Hall of Heroes”. The brave warriors who died in battle were brought here by the Valkyries (women warriors who served Odin) after death, which is considered to be an honour. In Valhalla, Odin dined with the warriors. The warriors were kept here for the final war called the Ragnarok, where only the brave would participate. (Ragnarok is a separate chapter altogether and will be discussed separately). The description of Valhalla is also very beautiful.

Valhalla had overlapping shields for a roof, held up by the spear-shafts as rafters. There were 540 doors. And from each of the door, eight hundred warriors could enter or leave the hall. Instead of torch-fires, the light in the great hall were lit by the glowing blades of swords. Mail shirts were strewn on the benches. In front of the western doors, there hanged a wolf. Hovering above Valhalla was a single eagle. There was also a tree standing in front of the doors of Valhalla; the tree had red-gold foliage.

Midgard was the dwelling of the Mankind. According to the Nordic Mythology, man was made from tree trunks and the Askr and Embla were the first man and woman, respectively. Odin had bestowed them with the gift of breath, Hoenir (another god) gave them understanding and the god Lodur gave them senses and outer appearance.

Hel or Niflhel was considered to be the land of the dead.

Besides the worlds, there were three wells. The significance of water is explained through different wells. One of them was considered to be a holy well water from which was used to water the Tree to avoid from the rotting of its roots. The other was the Well of Knowledge and as we have seen earlier, Odin had to pay with his eye to have a drink from this well. The third well was known as the Roaring Kettle, where a giant serpent which was continuously chewing at the root of the Tree, leading to its ultimate collapse during Ragnarok. This serpent was at constant war with the eagle at top of the tree. This eagle was extremely wise and fuelling the constant war was a squirrel that would keep going up and down the Tree delivering messages between the two to keep them at a constant war!

The concept of a tree at the centre of universe and the deep roots holding on to the worlds and every iota of existence is a beautiful thought. This is quite similar to the other cultures which consider a tree to be nourishing and life-giving. The details of Yggdrasill is covered in the poems is in great details, and the above is a gist of just a few of the important aspects of the same.

Tomorrow we will discuss the myth of the Construction of Wall of Asgard where we will read about the role of Loki, the trickster.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Norse Mythology – Chief Deities

Odin – was the chief god of the Nordic pantheon and was considered to be the father of all gods. He was the god of war and death, and also of wisdom. He was supposed to have hung on the Tree of Life for nine days pierced by his own spear. He was supposed to have even given one of his eyes for a drink from the well of knowledge and thus he is depicted as the one-eyed god. He is also depicted as wearing a cloak, being old, having a long grey beard, and wearing a wide brimmed hat down low over his face to conceal his one-eyed visage. Odin could make the dead speak to question the wisest amongst them.

Odin had a spear which never missed its mark and a bow which unleashed ten arrows with every pull. He also owned a magic ring which created nine of itself every night. Another one of Odin's prized possessions was his wonderful horse which had eight legs. It could travel to the underworld and through the air. Odin also had two wolves, and two ravens who were known as, Hugin (thought) and Munin (memory). He sent his ravens out every day to gather knowledge for him.

Thor – was the god of thunder and son of Odin and was one of the most powerful of all the gods. He was usually depicted as a powerful man with red beard and eyes, which represented lightning. He was a popular god as he was considered to be the protector of both gods and mankind against all evil. His popularity could also be because of his worship did not require human sacrifices, as in the case of Odin.

During a thunderstorm Thor is believed to be riding through the heavens on his chariot which is pulled by two goats. Lightning flashes each time he throws his mighty hammer Mjollnir. He wears a belt which doubles his already amazing strength and wears a pair of iron gloves which are needed to hold his hammer. The fourth day of the week, Thursday is derived from his name.

Freyja – was the goddess of love and fertility. She was a paragon of beauty and sensuality and stood for all things associated with love. She loved music and poetry. It is said that when she mourned for her dead husband, her tears turned into gold! She is always shown wearing a precious necklace, which is also one of her key attributes. She could take the form of a falcon, which helped her to travel long distances. Her name is the origin of the fifth day of the week, Friday.

Loki – was a trickster, who though a god, was responsible for creating lot of trouble. He was both cunning and wicked and had the ability to change his appearance into anything that he wanted to.

Balder – was the god of purity, light and above all, reconciliation. He was loved by both the gods and mankind; He did not have too many powers, but his death plays an important role in the Nordic mythology.

Balder was troubled by dreams of his impending death which bothered his mother. She extracted an oath from all the living creatures that they would not harm him ever, thus making him sort of invincible. This left Balder in some peace. Loki was jealous of Balder’s popularity and through trickery learnt that his mother had not bothered to extract such an oath from mistletoe, a herb, thinking it was too small to be bothered. Once when everyone was playing dart, with Balder as the target (!), Loki tricked Balder’s twin brother, to try a dart made of mistletoe. As intended it pierced Balder’s heart and killed him instantly.

Later it was decided that Balder would be resurrected, only if everything in the world, living or dead would cry for him. All did, except Loki who wanted to see the end of Balder, and thus Balder remained in the underworld. This episode is considered to be an important act in the entire mythology of the Norse.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Norse Mythology – An Introduction

Norse Mythology refers to the mythology of the Scandinavians, i.e. the modern day Sweden, Denmark, Norway, Iceland and parts of Germany.

The Norse people lived from about A.D. 200 to 500 in northern Europe & Scandinavia. After A.D. 700, the Norse migrated in search of new lands, settling in parts of the British Isles, Iceland, Greenland and East into Russia. From this period on, the Norse are known as Vikings. Needless to say that one of the most famous Vikings known and loved the world over was the famous comic character, Hagar the Horrible!

Their mythology reflects the Nordic men’s love of battle and conflict. Death and violence are rarely far away, for that was the only life that he early warriors knew.

There isn’t too much of original writing now available except for some short runic inscriptions on wood, bone, stone or metal. However, majority of the stories and myths are based on the Christian writers. Majority of the myths are based on the poems and prose written by such writers. Amongst the prominent sources are:
1.     Saxo Grammaticus who wrote in heavy Latin style
2.     Snorri Sturluson wrote in native Icelandic, especially his Prose Edda
3.     Some precious manuscripts called the Codex Regius found in an Icelandic farmhouse, and better known as Elder or Poetic Edda.

Besides the above, there are references in Archaeology, architecture and art, which gives glimpses of the times and their heroes.

We also get an occasional glimpse of the life of Vikings and their religious customs thru the eyes of Latin or Arab travellers who visited their settlements and trading centres.

The Principal gods of the Norse were Odin, Thor, Freya, Balder, Freyr and Loki to name a few. In the centre of the world in the Tree of Life, Yggdrasill, around which everything in the universe revolves. The gods lived in Asgard and mankind lived in Midgard. Another interesting place in the Valhalla, which was the Hall of the Heroes who were all preparing for the final war, known as the Ragnarok.

Over the next few days, we will go through each one of them in more details.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Helen of Troy – A Greek Romance

For all those who are suffering from yesterday’s hangover of love and romance, here is another romance of mythical times.

All of us have read, or heard or even seen on celluloid the Greek romance of Helen and Paris of Troy. So what is it that has made the romance so well known that generations later, people recount it again and again?

Many of us know about the romance leading to war, but not many might know as what led to the romance in the first place. So let us start at the very beginning i.e. with the root cause of the romance which led to the massive war in which gods sided with mortals, something quite unheard of.

Apple of Discord
It all started in the heavens, with the episode better known as the Judgement of Paris. Eris was an evil goddess of Discord (conflict) and due to her nature; she was not invited to the heavenly gatherings. During one such gathering, she was the lone goddess who was not invited. She decided to avenge the insult by creating trouble, and trouble she did! She threw in the banquet hall a golden apple, on which was written ‘For the Fairest’. Quite predictably all the goddesses laid claim on it, but eventually it narrowed down to three of them, viz. Hera, Athena and Aphrodite. They asked Zeus, the King of Gods, to arbitrate, but better sense prevailed and he suggested that they go to Mount Ida and meet Prince Paris, who was supposed to be a good judge of beauty and let him decide.

Before we move further, Paris, though a son of the King, was guarding the sheep as his father was told that he would be responsible for the destruction of his country. The King had thus sent him away to the mountains, to keep him away from the country, lest the prophecy became true. The three goddesses reached Mount Ida and asked Paris to arbitrate on the celestial problem. Paris was amazed at the job, and could not believe his luck. However, his judgement did not rest on the actual beauty of the goddesses, but on the bribes that each offered to him. Hera promised to make him the Lord of Europe and Asia. Athena offered him victory of the Trojans against the Greeks, leading to the ruin of Greece. Aphrodite offered him the love of the fairest of all mortals (which was none other than Helen). Paris offered the golden apple to Aphrodite, much to the disappointment of the others. It is this judgement, due to which the great Trojan was fought.

Helen’s beauty was a subject of heavens and was the mortal daughter of Zeus from Leda. Every prince in Greece wanted to marry her and when all had assembled to ask for her hand, it was a gathering of who’s who amongst the rich and powerful. Helen’s father, or rather the husband of her mother, was scared to choose one, lest he offended the rest and invite the collective wrath of the mighty. He then extracted an oath from all, that all of them would stand by Helen’s husband, whoever he be, and if he faced any problem, then all would unite with the husband and fight the enemy. Each agreed as each wanted to be the husband. Helen’s father then selected, Menelaus and also made him the King of Sparta.

Aphrodite having won her title of the fairest took Paris straight to Sparta where he was received by Menelaus and Helen. To cut short the story, before anybody realised, love had blossomed and Helen had eloped with Paris. When Menelaus came to know about it, he called on all the chiefs of Greece, and sought their help to get Helen back. They all responded as they were bound by the oath.

The war between the Greeks and the Trojans was war of the epics. Heroes were made and killed. Gods sided with the central characters during the war. Gods like Zeus, Achilles, Athena, Hera, Apollo, etc. all took sides. Heroes like Odysseus, Menelaus, Hector were made and some died heroic deaths. The Trojans were destroyed (episode of the Trojan Horse, is etched in our memories) and the Greeks were victorious. I will spare the details of heroism of the bloody war, as our subject is still love and what’s a better love story than the one which has a happy ending?

Helen goes back to Menelaus, and the initial prophecy was proven that Paris would bring destruction to his country.

Needless to say, that the gods were behind the mortal destruction, all for vanity of three goddesses, which I thought, was a human emotion!

Monday, February 14, 2011

Radha Krishna – A Divine Romance

On a day when love is in the air (besides being at the florists, the jewellers and all sorts of gift shops), it would be sacrilegious to talk of anything, but love. A romantic love story of mythical times, may be? Amongst all the love stories, it is that of Radha-Krishna which comes to my mind and why not? Radha-Krishna and their love has been a subject of much reverence as well as ridicule. The modern times sees the escapades of the two through the coloured glasses and with a wink of the eye.

So what is it about them, which though scandalous at times, grandparents do not shy away from sharing it with children? In a closed society like ours, why has such romance between the two been allowed and venerated? Even though the typical pictorial representation of Radha and Krishna has never showed the difference of age, it is well known that Radha was both older than Krishna as well as married.

To begin with who exactly was Radha? Some say she was Krishna’s maternal uncles wife (his maternal aunt to be precise), whereas some say she was just another, but a favourite gopi (milkmaid). Radha was considered to be the daughter of one Vrishbhanu and that she grew up in Barsana. Nothing much seems to be mentioned about her childhood. The most important thing to note is that there has been no mention of Radha as a character in any of the ancient literatures, be it Bhagavata, or the Vishnu Purana or Harivamsa or even the Mahabharata. There is no trace of Radha in any of the main texts even though Krishna is a prominent personality in all of them. Radha first appears in the Brahmavaivarta Purana but is not available for any significant reference.

Radha was brought into prominence by Jayadeva, the author of Geet-Govinda, around 12th century CE. Jayadeva was from a village in Orissa and was the court poet of the-then King of Bengal, and wrote this poem during his alleged relationship with a devdasi, Padmavati. He is later supposed to have married her. His inspiration was both his personal love affair as well as his spiritual quest. The poem explores the relationship of Radha and Krishna in all the elements of a relationship, which is both a divine and an erotic exploration, with all the aspects of love. The poem brought in a momentum in the Vaishnav sect of the times and soon Bengal saw a series of spiritual writers like Vidyapati and Chandidas writing on the relationship of Radha and Krishna. Radha was on her way to deification.

The relationship raised eyebrows and the eroticism was more than evident. What did all this imply, especially when all know that Krishna’s stay at Vrindavan was part of his childhood? This divine relationship is to be seen through metaphysical glasses and it is then that the beauty of it all is so evident.

The root of the word Radha is ‘Radh* implies worship, adoration. To take this further, anyone who worships or adores Krishna is Radha. It seems that Radha was more of a concept than a person. The aspect of her love defines the love for god. Selfless devotion, not craving for a name to the relationship and forgetting herself in him, was the main aspect of this kind of devotion. Radha’s love did not arise out of a compulsion of being god-fearing, she loved Krishna in an absolute terms. It was not a love of subjugation, but a love of equality.

Another aspect of her love is the age factor, especially the difference. To see this in a different angle, god is ageless, so Krishna being a child was of no major significance. Needless to mention that even at that age, some of the acts performed by him were beyond his age. Radha being older is to be seen as her being an adult who knew what she was doing. This took the relationship beyond the realm of infatuation. One could not submit to someone without knowing what one was doing, and her being an adult made it more acceptable, than if she was portrayed as a child.

Finally, Radha being married was to be seen as someone who was married to the societal norms and responsibilities laid by the society at large. Her seeking Krishna was someone seeking redemption by being within the society and without shirking her immediate responsibilities. Nowhere do we get a sense of her marital life being unfulfilled.

This relationship defined a spiritual quest of a different kind. This was a love of equals and here god is treated at par. Krishna was not a god and Radha was not a goddess. I would end with a beautiful myth which epitomises the relationship. Once, the gopis, who were jealous of Radha, took boiling milk to her asking her to drink it as requested by Krishna. Radha gulped down the milk and got back to her work, which surprised all of them, but left without saying anything. Later when they met Krishna, they saw that he had burnt his mouth and throat! This could be stuff of poetic fantasy, but it epitomises the divine relationship.

This love story is not for all to tarnish, but to see the deeper meaning in the romance. At the cost of repetition, I must add – in myth lies the message.

Happy Valentine’s Day!

* Krishna Charitra’ – By Bankim Chandra Chatterjee

Friday, February 11, 2011

The Sphinx

The moment someone speaks of Egypt, immediately two monuments come to our mind – the Pyramids and the Sphinx. With Egypt in the news for all the wrong reasons, I thought of discussing about the famous Sphinx, even though, it is found in places beyond Egypt.

Egyptian Sphinx
The Sphinx is a mythical creature which is half human and half animal. In Egypt, it has a body of a lion and the head of a human. It was a prominent figure which was known to guard the temples, palaces and the pyramids along with the secrets of the temples. The Sphinx was supposed to be a later day manifestation of the ancient Hathor, the goddess of birth and death. It was also supposed to be the guardian of the distant horizons, and faced the East, i.e. the rising Sun. It was a prominent figure of solar worship that existed during the ancient culture.

There are no major myths associated with the Sphinx, and today it exists more of a structural marvel. However, in some depictions it is shown as crushing some objects under its feet, used to depict the crushing of Egypt’s enemies. It is worth mentioning, that there has been intense speculation over the broken nose of the Sphinx. Some say, that it was broken by cannon ball struck at the nose by Napoleon’s soldiers, when they had attacked Egypt in 1798 (uncertain date). Some Egyptian historians attribute the loss of nose to acts of vandalism by Muhammad Sa'im al-Dahr, a Sufi fanatic, who was outraged when he saw some Egyptian farmers making an offering to the Sphinx for want of a good harvest.

Greek Sphinx
The Sphinx existed in the Greek mythology too, except that it did not hold a place of veneration, like it did for the Egyptians. The Greek Sphinx had the head of a woman, the body of a lioness and the tail of a serpent. She was evil and guarded the gates of Thebes and asked a riddle to all who wanted to enter the gates of Thebes, failing which they would be devoured. This Sphinx features in the tale of Oedipus and she repeats the riddle to Oedipus too. The famous riddle was – Which creature in the morning goes on four legs, at mid-day on two, and in the evening upon three, and the more legs it has, the weaker it be? To this Oedipus was supposed to have answered – Man - who crawled on all fours as a baby, walked on two feet as an adult, and then used a stick in old age. On hearing the answer, the sphinx is supposed to have killed itself, thus freeing Thebes of the menace of the Sphinx. However, the Greek Sphinx was a greedy and an evil creature, and does not find any mention elsewhere.

In India, there exists a sphinx like creature known as Purushamriga, meaning man-beast. It is found in many South-Indian temples and is engraved at the entrances of the temples, whose main duty is to take away the sins of the people who entered the temples. Sometimes such figures are also found near the entrance to the sanctum-sanctorum of the temples. The Greek Sphinx is also quite similar to the Sharabha form of Lord Shiva (please refer to the article   dated 29/12/2010 from the Archives). It is important to mention that one should not confuse the Sphinx with the Narasimha (avatar of Vishnu), which is an exact opposite. The Narasimha has the body of a male and the face of a lion as against all the Sphinxes that we have been speaking about.

Sphinxes are also found in many of the Buddhist art forms in some of the South-Asian countries like Philippines, Thailand, Burma and even Sri Lanka. The Sphinxes are also found in the Freemasonry architecture. But it is definitely the Egyptian Sphinx that remains as such overbearing sculptures or landmarks which has captured the mind-space of each one of us.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Maat – Egyptian Goddess of Truth and Justice

Maat, in Egyptian language literally means ‘truth’. Maat is the Egyptian goddess of Truth and Justice. Besides truth and justice, she also represented law, order and a sense of balance. She was also credited by bringing a sense of stability to the universe, post creation. She was considered to be the opposite of Isfet who was credited to represent chaos, deceit and violence, all things that destroy the balance or equilibrium.

She has been depicted as a young woman with an ostrich feather as her headgear. She was considered to be the daughter of Sun-god, Ra and was the female counterpart of Thoth, who was the god of wisdom and learning. Together with Thoth, both represented divine wisdom and all aspects associated with it.

According to the Egyptian mythology, after death, Maat acts as the judge of morality. She would weigh the soul of the dead against her ostrich feather in a scale, and if the soul balances against the feather, then the soul reaches paradise. If it weighed heavier than the feather, a sign that it was a soul which harboured evil deeds, then it would be given to the crocodile headed goddess Ammut (some say she was lioness-headed), who would devour it and would be relegated to the underworld. This way the Egyptians believed that there would be balance, and just as the good would get rewarded, the evil would get punished. The concept of punishment after life is akin to many other cultures, including Hinduism. She was also said to regulate the movement of stars and the seasons, again leading to a sense of continuous change with balance at the core of all her activities.

The Pharaoh’s of the later day were often shown with the symbols of Maat, as they were seen as the upholders of the principles of Maat. Judges were also referred as ‘priests of Maat’. Many feel that Maat was less of a goddess and more of a concept. The concept of balance leading to equilibrium was passed on to the Greeks during the reign of the Greeks over Egypt. Many also feel that the present day image of the blind-folded Lady of Justice, holding the balance as the image of justice is a modern derivative of the Egyptian Maat.
Unfortunately, Egypt today is fighting for the same, balance and justice.  The priest of Maat, who is sitting in judgement, has been sitting for too long now, and the children of Egypt feel that balance is tilted. The lack of equilibrium in today’s Egypt shows that the much needed concept of truth and justice is being thrown to the winds. Maat is much in need, and the sense of balance and justice and the resultant equilibrium needs to be restored soon.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Vasant Panchami

Vasant Panchami literally means the fifth day of the spring season (vasant ritu). This day is also considered as the day of Goddess Saraswati, the Hindu goddess of learning and wisdom. In earlier days, pre-school children were inducted to schools on this day, or were made to write from this day. In a country where education is a religion, this day has its own importance. In the Eastern parts of India, every household which has children in schools or colleges perform Saraswati Puja, besides the community ones held on this day.

Saraswati is the consort of Lord Brahma, the creator of the universe and the originator of all knowledge in the form of Vedas. In the eastern parts of India, Saraswati is considered to be the daughter of Shiva and Parvati. She is clad in white, symbolising purity. The vahana or the carrier of Saraswati is a white swan and this too has its own significance. The swan is supposed to have the ability to separate water from milk, signifying that learning and wisdom enables man to distinguish good from bad.

Mythologically, Saraswati is the sister of Goddess Lakshmi (goddess of wealth), but both are considered to be poles apart. Saraswati is permanent, where is Lakshmi is temporary (chanchala – fidgety, and thus does not stay anywhere forever). Worshipper of Saraswati is blessed for life, but the worshipper of Lakshmi is wealthy till the whims of the goddess.

Saraswati has her counterparts in other mythologies too.

According to Greek Mythology, Athena is the goddess of wisdom and learning. She is the daughter of Zeus and is credited with inventing the flute, which symbolises her association with music and other fields of arts and craft.

Besides the goddesses, the Egyptians had Thoth as the god of learning. Thoth was also associated with wisdom, writing, speech, etc. He was the chief counsellor to Ra, the King of all gods.


Odin was the god of wisdom in the Nordic mythology. He is supposed to have hung on the tree of knowledge pierced by his own spear to gain knowledge and wisdom. He is always depicted as one-eyed, as he is supposed to have traded his other eye for a drink from the Well of Wisdom, which enabled him to gain immense knowledge.

 Though there are many other mythologies which have gods and goddesses of wisdom, learning, poetry, arts, music, etc., the above are deities who are primarily associated with aspects of knowledge and wisdom.

We surely do live in times of dichotomy. Lakshmi or Saraswati? Wealth or Wisdom? To acquire wisdom, we need wealth, and the moment we acquire wisdom or learning, our objective turns to earn wealth. Somewhere, or the other, the pursuit of Saraswati seems to be to acquire Lakshmi. Serious worshippers of Saraswati have humble dwellings, and worshippers of Lakshmi live in palaces. Teachers travel in public transport while students come in chauffeur-driven cars. In the land of gurukuls and unflinching devotion to teachers, one needs to be a strong worshipper of Lakshmi to attain the blessings of Saraswati! Once the blessings of Saraswati are acquired, it’s time to appease Lakshmi again!

If this is not a serious dichotomy, then what is?

Monday, February 7, 2011

Why was Narada Muni a Bachelor?

According to a myth, once Narada Muni’s meditation could not be disturbed even by Kamdev, the god of love. Narada Muni overheard someone say that this made him bigger than even Lord Shiva, since Kamdev had managed to disturb Shiva and his meditation was disturbed by him. This comment went to Narada’s head and he started believing that he was superior to Lord Shiva.

Since Lord Vishnu was concerned of his favourite disciple’s pride and arrogance, he decided to teach Narada a lesson in humility. Vishnu requested his consort, Goddess Lakshmi to take the human form of Srimati, the beautiful daughter, of King Ambarish. During one such visit to the King Ambarish’s palace, Narada saw Srimati and instantly fell in love with her and expressed his desire to marry Srimati. King Ambarish though did not prefer the match, could not say anything to Narada. So he agreed to host a swayamwara and let Srimati choose her husband.

Narada immediately went to Lord Shiva and asked him as to what should he do, so that Srimati selected him. Shiva said that if he could look as handsome as Vishnu, then, Srimati might notice him and for this he should meet Vishnu himself. Narada went to Vishnu and requested that he look as good as Vishnu to enable Srimati select him. Vishnu smiled and decided to play a trick on Narada.

On the day of the swayamvara, Narada got a monkey-face, without his realising this. When Srimati came with a garland in her hand, she saw no Narada Muni but a monkey-faced man. However, next to him was a handsome man calling her out. Srimati immediately garlanded him and before anybody could realise, both Srimati and the handsome man (who was none other than Lord Vishnu) had vanished in thin air.

When Narada saw his reflection in water, he was angry and felt cheated. He then cursed Vishnu that a time would come, when he too would have to be separated from his love, and at that time, it would be a monkey, whose help he would have to take to get his love back! I will spare you all the story of Ramayana!

However, Narada had also learnt his lesson and since then he shed all his pride and arrogance and decided to remain unmarried. Because of this episode, Narada Muni is also referred to as Kapi-Vaktra or monkey-faced.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Narada Muni – Valmiki

As the story goes, Ratnakar was a robber who had taken to robbing and would loot people passing from one village to another. During one such incident he came across Narada Muni and threatened him with dire consequences if he did not part with all he had. Narada got him chatting and asked him the reason of this profession, to which Ratnakara said that he was doing this for his family. Did he know that the means were wrong, to which Ratnakara said that he did, but he had no option as he had to take care of his family too.

Then Narada asked him, if his family would be party to his sin, to which Ratnakara felt, that they obviously would. On Narada’s insistence, Ratnakara went home to check with his family. To his horror and surprise, both his wife and children felt that it was his responsibility to take care of them, but they could not be hold responsible for the sin he was committing. Heart-broken, Ratnakara came back to the waiting Narada and broke down. It was then that Narada taught Ratnakara how to meditate and chant ‘Rama’.

Ratnakar got so engrossed in his meditation that he did not even realise that ant-hills had formed all over him. Later Narada, came and removed the ant-hills from his body and named him Valmiki, (Valmika meaning ‘from the ant-hill’) and gave him the title of Brahmarishi and in due course of time, motivated him to pen down the entire Ramayana, after narrating the story to him.

Here too, we find that Narada was instrumental in seeing the potential of Ratnakara and through the correct means transforms him into Brahmarishi Valmiki. This is thanks to his being aware of the fact that Ratnakar was the long lost son of Rishi Prachetasa, who was lost at childhood and brought up by a hunter, and in due course took to looting. This internal information was put to good use and channelized into making him a rishi and a great author. Narada’s being aware of critical information, making good use of it and influencing in the most positive manner enabled Valmiki to write the epic, Ramayana.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Narada Muni – Lord Dattatreya

According to a myth, earth was chanting the greatness of Sati Anusuya and her chastity was a topic of discussion on heavens. The three prime goddesses, Saraswati, Lakshmi and Parvati, decided to put to test Sati Anusuya’s chastity and made their husbands, the Holy trinity of Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva to do what they wanted. They insisted that they go to Anusuya and seek ‘Nirvana Bhiksha’, i.e., giving alms in a naked condition.

Much against their wishes, the gods did what their wives had demanded of them. On hearing the request from the three Sanyasis (the form taken by the Trinity), Sati Anusuya, was aghast, to say the least, but turning down such a request would be nothing short of sacrilege. So she sprinkled some water which she had used to wash her husband’s feet, on the three gods, which changed them into three kids. At that moment, she found milk accumulating in her breasts and she fed the three children her milk. While feeding the milk, in a nude form, she thought of them as her children, and thus, her chastity was intact.

It was at this stage that Narada Muni went to the three goddesses and related the whole incident and also informed them that their husbands had been changed into children, and the only way to get them was to beg for them from Anusuya’s husband, Rishi Atri. On begging, the Holy trinity were restored to their original form, and the three children were merged into one god – Dattatreya, a single bodied lord with three faces, in the likeness of the holy Trinity. The three gods then blessed the child and said that the Dattatreya would become a well-known sage and will equal the status of the three gods.

It was Narada Muni who used his influence to get the goddesses to bring out their concerns and get to test Anusuya’s chastity and also to get them to understand that they were not unique and that the earthlings could at times pose a threat to their heavenly status, which had been taken for granted. The envy of the goddesses was instigated by none other than Narada Muni himself, as he was also secretly aware of the fact that Sati Anusuya had a desire to beget children like the holy Trinity. Thus Narada, ensured that Sati Anusuya’s wish be granted while the goddesses pride be grounded. In this example, Narada is instrumental in many of the results that were achieved.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Narada Muni – the Celestial Lobbyist

The technical definition of Lobbyist is – a person or organisation that practices influencing legislatures toward passing bills that favours or helps their interests.  The term has gained larger meaning to include contracts, positions, personal interests, big-bucks, etc.! Lobbying is now the latest buzz word in terms of profession and seems quite a great job, if you don’t get embroiled into controversies, that is! So what does it take to become one?

Here are some qualifications of a Lobbyist –
1.     Great contacts
2.     Influential enough to get things done.
3.     Domain knowledge
4.     Accessibility to all doors
5.     Be well informed

If we remove the label of a ‘Lobbyist’ and deglamourise it a bit, then we can see that such people have been in existence from the times of yore, except that they were not labelled as Lobbyists. Narada Muni from Hindu mythology was but a Lobbyist, if we remove some of the existing labels attached to his persona.

Great Contacts – Narada was the son (mansaputra) of none other than Lord Brahma himself. He was considered to be the greatest worshipper and follower of Lord Vishnu and could present himself at his abode without prior permission.

Influential enough to get things done – Narada Muni’s unique position of being Brahma’s manasputra and Vishnu’s biggest follower and his ‘non-curse able’ personality made him extremely influential in Heavens, which was the main arena of action and the place to get things done.

Domain KnowledgeNara means man, and da means giver, thus the very name Narada, stands for someone who gives, knowledge (useful) to mankind in general. He was well versed with Vedas and Upanishads. He had an extraordinary proficiency in Samaveda which is dedicated to music. He knew the art of articulating each syllable and was also well versed in semantics. He also knew the precise use of each word.

Accessibility to all doors – Narada Muni had access to all the three lokas, and as mentioned earlier, there was no place on both heavens and earth, that he didn’t have access to. There was no place on either, which he could not visit, and no matter what, he had the ability to be just everywhere at all times! I guess that’s probably why, he was not just a rishi, but a Maharishi.

Be well informed – Narada Muni was known as Trikal Vedi, one who was aware of the past, present and the future at any given point of time. He was well informed of the happenings of all the lokas and knew exactly when to be where and get something to happen. He was a perfect catalyst for many a great things that happened, as would see.

It was thanks to Narada Muni’s influence, or insistence and his being aware of the happenings of all places that we have read about the timely saving of Bhakt Prahalada from the hands of his father Hiranyakashipu and the Narasimha avatar of Lord Vishnu. Or the avatar of Lord Rama and Sita vanquishing Ravana with the help of Hanuman too is thanks to a ‘curse’ by Narada to Lord Vishnu, who was accused of fooling Narada during one his bouts of arrogance. Similarly Narada Muni was instrumental in Ved Vyasa writing the Mahabharata, just as he helped Thyagaraja achieve his epitome as a musician, and Valmiki writing the Ramayana. Narada Muni was also responsible for ensuring that Dhruv got his place in the sky and on the lap of Lord Vishnu, just as his timely intervention ensured the creation of God Dattatreya.

All the myths might have the basic ingredient as Narada the mischief maker, but if we dilute the element of his being Kalaha-Priya or the lover of quarrels, we can see that, at the end of it all, Narada Muni was an individual who was instrumental in many an action. He lobbied with the powers-that-be (gods in heavens in this case), all through the intrinsic knowledge of all that he had, to set a few actions (be it recognition to some or awards to some), needless to say that all for the positive good at the end.

Did he not play the role of a Lobbyist well? Is he not a good benchmark of an ideal Lobbyist?

[During the next few days, we will discuss some of the myths of Narada Muni in greater details.]