You are here: Sri Vaishnava Home Page : Bhakti List : Archives : April 1998

Part I: MYTHS- Section 1-Introductio 1 of 4

From: Nutech (
Date: Thu Apr 30 1998 - 14:12:41 PDT

Dear Bhagavatas,

I am presenting Part I of "Myths, Miracles and Mysticism" - which deals
with Myths. Section 1 Introduction is covered in 4 posts. This is 1 of
4. After going through all the posts on the subject, you may put in your
queries because some of your concerns will find answers in the
subsequent postings.			
Anbil Ramaswamy

			PART   1 :  MYTHS
                    SECTION 1 :  Introduction

A 'Myth' is a traditional or legendary fiction, a fabulous narrative
founded on some event during the early existence of a people and
embodying their ideas as to their own origin, their gods, their heroes
and their cultural practices. A collection of such myths is called

In the West,the word 'myth' has been taken to mean that the narrations
are not factual but fictitious, not real but imaginary.There is a
considerable difference on the impact of mythology on the minds of
Indians and the Westerners. The Indian would seem to accept mythology
more readily without questioning - being highly imaginative and
credulous. The Westerner, on the other hand, being obsessed with
historical perspectives and scientific research mindset seem to be
inclined to skepticism and disbelief unless the contrary is proved. The
Indian mind tends to be swayed by the shroud of mythology than by the
surrounding facts. The Westerner tends to indulge in shredding,
vivisecting and discarding mythology in search for proofs so much as to
miss the very charm and purpose of mythology.

But, mythology has been an integral part of all religions the world
over. Religion dates back to several millions of years before history
began. History dare not peep into such hoary past and has, therefore,
consigned it to the incomprehensible heap called 'mythology'. The
concepts which mythology deals with are much older than anything history
or science can think of. History and Science will be powerless beyond a
certain point where only intuition and spiritual experience can have any

" Mythology and holy figures are necessary for any great culture to rest
on its stable spiritual foundation and function as a life-giving
inspiration and guide" 1

Mythology helps to put us in consonance with nature. Mythology helps in
relating the microcosm of the individual to the larger macrocosm of the
Universal spirit. Mythology sheds light on the Universal Consciousness
that reveals itself to the mind and not to the senses.

" Mythology is not a lie. Mythology is poetry. It has been well said
that mythology is the penultimate truth - penultimate because the
ultimate cannot be put in words. It is beyond words, beyond images,
beyond that bounding rim of the Buddhist 'Wheel of existence'. Mythology
pitches the mind beyond that rim, to what can be known but not told. So,
this is the penultimate truth...Thinking in mythological terms helps to
put you in accord with the inevitables of this vale of tears. You learn
to recognize the positive values in what appear to be negative moments
and aspects in your life"- 2

Also, what is truth has to be understood. The truth of the matter is
that there is no such thing as ' the absolute truth, the whole truth and
nothing but the truth' as they swear on oath in the court rooms. Sage
Tiruvalluvar defines truth as that which does not cause harm. Truth does
get qualified qualitatively according to circumstances. Myth combines
truth as we understand it ( but do not practice!) and truth as defined
above since its aim is not only not causing harm but also positively
ennobling character.

What fascinates kids and adults alike is a happy blend of fact and
fiction. Children all over the World are allured by characters appearing
in Aesoph's fables, Canturbury tales, Arabian nights, Walt Disney's
creations etc. Characters such as those of James Bond, Sherlock Holmes,
Perry Mason, Matlock etc. conjure up the imagination of 'grown ups'.
This is because the former are 'kidstuff' myths. For, the grown ups, '
ambition is made of sterner stuff '.

One thing in common, however, is the message of facts that these
fictions convey. We live in a celluloid world where the scenes depicted
on the screen (from 70 mm to the TV) seem so real as to leave an
indelible impression on the minds and psyche of the viewers. That these
images mold attitudes, behaviors and even character especially of the
impressionable segments of the viewers cannot be gainsaid. It is all the
more necessary for those responsible for their production to take care 
that they convey the right kind of message which can chasten the mind
and not transmit the wrong kind of signals that debase and deprave

Perhaps due to the cultural chasms that separate countries and nations,
stories such as the antics of Don Quixote. the travels of Gulliver, the
exploits of the knights of the round table in Morte D' Arthur, tha
sorrows of Satan in Milton's Paradise Lost, the perigrinations of Alice
in wonderland etc that fire the imagination of the West may not carry
the same amount of interest in others. Similarly, the allusions in the
Upanishads, the legends in the Puranas, the anecdotes  in the Itihasas
relating to Rama, Krishna, Hanuman, Bhishma, Arjuna, Nalayani, Sita and
a host of such heroes and heroines in our scriptures have a special
significance to the Indian ethos which the Western mind cannot grasp  or
grasp with as much vigor.

For the Indian mind, these heroes and heroines are not mere 'dramatis
personae', the events are not mere allegories unlike in the case of
Aesoph's fables etc. The characters in the Hindu pantheon throb with
vitality of real life. It is hard to find a parallel anywhere in the
history of world literature of such a vivid portrayal 
(except perhaps in depictions in Greek and Roman mythology). Under the
panoramic canopy of Itihasas and Puranas, a vibrant array of
personalities march past but each one is a unique and immortal
figure,living in the very consciousness of the Indian multitude from the
Pre-historic through the Proto-historic to the present contemporary

To millions of Indians down the ages and all over the world, Ramayana
and Mahabharata are not mere tales. They have more truth and meaning in
them than the events in their own lives. As plants grow drawing
sustenance from Sunlight, so the people of India draw mental strength
and culture by the enlivening inspiration of the epics. Meanings of some
lessons are patent; In others, they may be latent. A reverential
approach and a rational unbiassed reflection would reveal the
intellectual fare and invaluable morals hidden in them.