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

Part I : MYTHS- Section 1- Introduction 2 of 4

From: Nutech (
Date: Thu Apr 30 1998 - 14:29:09 PDT

Dear Bhagavatas,
Presented below is Part I : Myths- Section -1 : Introduction 2 of 4.
Anbil Ramaswamy
" As a person grows up in India, he is told stories, participates in
events, sees other peoples and finds himself seen in terms of specific
sense of values - a ' Hindu point of view'. Hindu children soon come to
know what is expected of them and why. They learn how to live each day
in the direction of the ultimate destiny which they believe is building
in and through their specific acts and choices. But, all this is so
natural, so matter of fact that they may be unaware either that there is
or that they have a 'Hindu point of view'... It is remarkable that in
India even slightly educated villagers have so little trouble practicing
what learned scholors have such difficulty explaining" - 3

Another dimension that lends importance to legends is the fact that
moral instructions cannot be forced down the throats through aphorisms
and commandments. Works like Bartruhari's Neeti Satakam, Vairaghya
Satakam, Sringara Satakam of 100 verses each in Sanskrit, Aathichoodi,
Konrai Vendhan, Nanneri, Innaa Naarpadu, Iniyavai Nararpadu, Vetri
Verkai, Moodurai, Nalvazhi etc in Tamil and similar works in other
languages were in the form of aphorisms commanding observance of codes
of conduct. They are masterpieces in their own right and were followed
implicitly in the olden times and even formed part of the curriculum of
primary grades unti recently. But, the modern minds  refuse to be swayed
by such commands anymore. It is the sugar coated story types of
Panchatantra, Hitopadesa, the encounters of Maharaja Vikramaaditya with
the Vampire (Vetal), the exploits of Madana Kama Raja, wise saws, witty
sayings, biting humour and wisecracks of Tenaali Raman, Mariyaadai
Raman, Birbal, Mullah Naziruddin and the like that appeal better.

In the Hindu traditions, we have the earliest scriptures known to
mankind called the Vedas and the Braahmanaas which seem archaic and
abstract, the Smritis and Sutras which seem academic and astral but the
Puranas and Itihasas are simple though sometimes goofy, sometimes
grotesque but nevertheless having an unmistakable undercurrent of
emphasis on morality and good conduct elevating human to a divine level.
While the Vedas command, Itihasas and Puranas show the ways as a good
friend would advise, combining both myth and mystery with principles and

'Purana' means though old (Pura), they are new (Nava) and relevant even
today. Purana has been called the Vedas of the common people because
they record the TRUE happenings in the olden times that are  retold in
the form of traditional and  religious folklore narratives. They impart
faith in morals through mythology, allegory, legend and symbolism. No
subject of human concern was left untouched by the Puranas.

'Itihasa' means 'So, Indeed, it was'. They refer to a class of
literature which chronicle  the REAL happenings of events as they
occured in the Tretayuga and the Dvaparayuga . These are  periods which
the modern mind cannot even  visualize and  just because of our own
inability to comprehend, even by stretching our imagination we cannot 
dub them as figment of imagination. 

Ramayana has been translated into several All- India languages and
various foreign languages inspired by its lofty ideals. Mahabharata
which contains the famous Bhagavad Gita-  is hailed all over the world
as ' the celestial song of Lord Krishna' There is a famous saying about
the author of Mahabharata thus: "Whatever Vyasa wrote can be found
elsewhere; Whatever he did not write on did not exist"

" We have several  rivers flowing across the country like the Ganga and
Kaveri which provide a good source of drinking water. But, We should
remember that they are also holy and perenniel rivers worthy of our
veneration. So also, the Itihasas  and Puranas are not mere story books
though they make good stories too. They are the archives wherein are
treasured the nobility of the mind and vitality of spirit of our
forebears who shared the good, bad and the indifferent vicissitudes of
life with admirable fortitude, experienced the mysteries of life more
fully than we are capable of with our limited perceptions and our
interminable material pursuits".

Our folklores have taken care to inculcate the noblest traditions and
handed down a rich heritage of ideals. If some perversions,
incongruities and deviate characterizations are painted here and there,
it is for cautioning the common mind as to what one should be wary about
and how one should avoid them.

Our scriptures portray  certain events that are not edifying. for
example, Devas are shown to have exhibited weaknesses that would taint
even ordinary human beings. Some of the sages like Durvasa, Viswamitra
and Gautama have been shown as overcome by Kama and Kroda (lust and
anger), jealousy and suspicion. Why? The poets could have avoided
showing them in bad light,-if they wanted to. But, they did not do so
because subjecting such evolved souls also to moodswings would be an
eye-opener for all of us. However high  their spiritual evolvement,
humans as they are, they are as  prone to foibles as any others. This is
also to show how by giving room to forfeits spiritual merit
so assiduously built by severe penance. 

In the case of Devas who are seen constantly at war with Asuras and
resort to mean and unethical subterfuges, it evokes a sense of revulsion
in us. This is because the Devas are visualized as wedded to virtue,
rouse high level of expectation in their demeanour. Any deviation on
their part seem too unpardonable in our perception like a blot on a
spotless canopy. The Demons are usually associated with evil and
therefore their wicked deeds seem so natural to their disposition that
they do not bother our attention like a black spot on a black cloth.

Thus, it is seen that the Puranas, Itihasas and other religious books
which seek to preach Dharma sometimes show characters and events of
moral turpitude. It is not as if we in our superior intelligence and
detective skills have unravelled these lapses. They are all the
handiwork of the authors themselves - a kind of deliberate strategy by
which the lapses are designed to distress the reader's mind to serve as
warnings against weaknesses that wait to overtake and destroy the
unwary. This is to show that even virtuous men can and do commit
mistakes and sins unless they exercise a conscious and eternal vigilance
on their own behavior to avoid the pitfalls.