The Hindu religion is the oldest religion whose origin can be traced back to the prehistoric time around 5000-10000 BC. So much of the interesting myths, beliefs and mythologies surrounding the religion are as old. In fact, given the millennia old timeline, many of these mythologies might have gone through a number of retelling at different ages. The Hindu mythology has rich history, enigmatic characters, resounding stories and a surprisingly innate association with modern science. There are cyclic periods of time that keep on repeating themselves after a certain interval. There also are epics like Mahabharata and Ramayana – the earliest being the longest known epic in human history. Following the suit, here is a list of 10 interesting facts about ancient Hindu mythology.
10. Satya Yug
The Hindu mythology clearly states that all living beings pass through a continuous cycle of creation and destruction. This cycle reiterates itself in four different epochs or Yugas. The first of these Yugas is the Satya Yuga, which expands over a period of 1,728,000 years. The Satya Yuga is said to be the golden age of truth and enlightenment. In this age, people have attained an ideal state of mind and their actions are always reasoned and virtuous. The sacred texts further state that there was a surplus flow of ideas and thoughts between people.
Everyone led an honest life and completely adhered to truth. Everyone had acquainted the answer to the ultimate question – the origin of everything. And since there was virtually nothing to conceal, even the tiniest thread of thought was accessible to everyone without any verbal communication. The human physiology also significantly differed from the one that we exhibit today. People used to be around 21 cubits (31.5 feet) tall. They also had a lifespan that stretched over hundreds of thousands of years.
9. Treta Yuga
It represents the second age in the cycle of Maha Yuga. The Hindu scripts state that Treta Yuga spans over a period of 1,296,000 human years. By the advent of Treta Yuga, the presence of satva (goodness) in human nature had slowly started to diminish. Whatever amount of goodness they retained in their virtue was now accompanied by ever increasing amount of Tamas and rajas. Tamas represented the darkness in human nature and rajas constituted of all the passion a human could conjure. By now, people had nurtured an acute level of intellect, but they had also lost a good deal of control over their body and its physiology.
The body stature was now lesser than that in the Satya yuga – an average human was around 14 cubits tall, but there were some exceptional beings who had attained godly built and divine persona. To name some, the likes of Rama, Laxamana, Ravana and Hanumana were considered godlike for their extraordinary strength and inimitable intellect.
8. Dwapar Yuga
Dwapar Yuga represents the third age in succession right after Treta Yuga. Also known as the Bronze age, the Dwapar yuga is said to last for 864,000 human years. It represents an age where the goodness and evil in human nature are neck in neck. Since the human body loses a substantial amount of purity (satva), people attain a far greater control over their body than their intellect. By the time Dwapar yuga was its peak, the man had already lost control over his innermost body and knowledge. He became more attracted to the materialistic perspective of the world, succumbing to his ever increasing desires. Only the very intellectuals like Bhisma, Dharmaraja and Vidura were able to escape this allure. Eventually, there was a gradual decline in the moral fiber of society. People with enormous physicality became increasingly offensive in their thirst of desire and power. The average human lifespan had also come down to 1000 years.
7. Kali Yuga
The last age in ever repeating cycle of Maha Yuga is the Kali Yuga. It also happens to have the shortest span that lasts for 432,000 human years. The current time period falls under Kali Yuga – also referred to as the Iron Age. As the name already suggests, Kali Yuga witnesses hypocrisy and instability like never before. Human nature is significantly corrupted by the temptations of sin and only a fickle of conscience remains.
The human body is at its lowest in terms of physicality and intellect. An average man is only 3.5 cubits tall and lives for around 100 to 120 years. Citing the ancient Hindu scripts, it is estimated that around 5000 years of Kali Yuga have already passed by. It is also predicted that when Kali Yuga reaches its dying years, the lifespan of man will be no more than 20 years. This age has been majorly highlighted by man’s unprecedented longing for materialism. In a stark contrast to previous ages, human lives have been convoluted by ignorance and the connection to one’s inner self has been lost.
6. The curses
Curses have long and rather intriguing history in different mythologies. Now, the Hindu gods rarely cursed for they wielded power mighty enough to inflict whatever suffering they wished upon others. But still, there were many instances where some unique curses worth mentioning have been given in Hindu mythology. In the epic of Mahabharata, the Pandavas were hit my immense sorrow on realizing Karna was their half-brother all along. They had only just killed him in the battle. An enraged Yudhisthara could not believe their mother Kunti would keep such personal information from them. So, he cursed that no woman then on, shall be able to keep any secrets from others.
Then, there is the curse on Pandu that if he ever approaches a woman with feelings of desire, he shall die on the spot. Probably, the most notable of them is when Gandhari cursed Lord Krishna in the aftermath of Mahabharata. After having defeated the Kauravas (killing all one hundred sons of Gandhari), he went to console a distraught mother. On seeing Krishna, Gandhari cursed that no one in Krishna’s bloodline shall live to see future generations. And just like the Kauravas bloodline was terminated, all of Krishna’s family killed each other in due time. Krishna died an untimely death with no one left to continue his bloodline.
5. The Vedas and Modern Science
The Vedas represent the collection of hymns and religious texts that were formulated somewhere in between 1500 to 1000 BCE. These sacred verses were written in regions of contemporary Indus civilization – a region noted as the origin place of ancient Hindu religion. The scripture used in the Vedas is Sanskrit. Even though the Vedas were composed thousands of years ago, scientists have found a strong connection between their messages and modern science.
For instance, modern scientists put forward the idea of existence of multiple universe in string theory. It states we live in a multiverse – there are many universes that exist in parallel. The Hindu Vedas clearly state this “modern” concept by mentioning the existence of cyclical infinite worlds in the ancient Hindu cosmology. The sacred texts in the Vedas and the Bhagwat Gita were immaculate in their understanding of the universe. In fact, it was Albert Einstein who once quoted “When I read the Bhagavad-Gita and reflect about how God created this universe everything else seems so superfluous”.
4. Foundation of Hinduism
Hinduism is quite unlike other traditional religions – it did not originate from a single founder or some sacred scripture or at a particular point in time. Hinduism is an amalgamation of different beliefs, traditions and philosophies. These different viewpoints are usually at contradiction with each other. So naturally, there are different theories on the origin of the world’s oldest religion. The first mention on its foundation can be traced back to the earliest of the writings of ancient Hindu sages or Rishis. But again, even these sacred writings were originally enunciated orally.
The earliest traces of practices that resembled Hindu traditions can be tracked back to ancient India around 5500 BCE. It is unclear if the tradition had any specific nomenclature back then. The term Hindu originated only during the Mughal era in contemporary India. Hinduism became a popular reference only during 19th-20th century, when English colonial rule saw rapid expansion in India. Evidences also show that an ascetic God named Siva was popularly worshipped in the Indus Valley civilization around 3000 BCE. The greatest of all epics Mahabharata was written somewhere in the period of 400 BCE and 200 CE. It gave immense insight into Hindu mythology in the form of Bhagavad Gita along with other historically crucial texts.
3. The Hindu epics
The Hindu epics were written to create moral and upright ideals for followers to look up to. These epics were written in Sanskrit and in their essence described the power of Hindu gods in poetic verses. The most popular among these poetic epics are the Ramayana and Mahabharata. The Ramayana is a magnificent narration of the story of Rama. It chronicles the life of Rama from his birth in the kingdom of Ayodhya to his decisive victory over the evil nemesis Ravana. The epic speaks volumes on the virtue of true brotherhood, love and the essence of sacrifices one has to make to defeat the ultimate evil.
Mahabharata is the longest epic ever written and gives an in-depth insight on the rise of Hinduism between 400 BCE and 200 CE. In fact its entire narration is seven times the length of the Illiad and the Odessey combined. Apart from its glorious narration of tussle between the Kauravas and Pandavas, it also details the scripts of Bhagawat Gita. It is a recital from origin to end of a great battle that pits brothers against brothers. In time, the Bhagawat Gita went on to become the epitome of Hinduism’s sacred scripture.
2. Gods and Goddesses
Hinduism follows a polytheistic tradition. The Hindus worship multiple deities, and these gods and goddesses usually belong to a certain pantheon of divinities. In fact, citing certain lines in the sacred Hindu scripts, many believe that there are around 330 million gods in the Hindu mythology. Each of these gods and goddesses symbolizes a certain aspect of life. Goddess Saraswati is the source of all knowledge and wisdom. God Brahma is the creator of reality as we know it. In fact, the divine trinity of Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva is seen as a base of entire Hindu mythology.
But the Vedas clearly state, there are only 33 major deities. The transition into 300 million gods came in the Upnishadic age in an attempt to reflect the infinitude of the universe. Despite such cosmic number of gods and goddesses, Hindus give primary devotion to a single god. All other gods are taken as different avatars (facets) of their primary deity. In terms of age, all the primary divinities are as old as time and creation itself.
1. Theory of creation
The Hindu mythology provides several accounts on how exactly the creation of the universe took place. The answers themselves delve into varying degrees of complexity since there have been different approaches at separate instances of time. Perhaps the most popular of approach states that the highest of deities were oblivious to their own presence before the existence of time itself. Before the creation, there was no time, no heaven or earth or the space in between. There was the dark ocean that washed into the shores of nothingness.
In another depiction, it all started with the enunciation of a sacred sound Oom (Aum). The ancient Hindu scriptures state that the ultimate reality (Brahman) has three main functions. These three characteristics are inhibited by the trinity of gods – Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva. That is why we can see images where the heads of the trinity are merged together into a single body – the Trimurti. In the Trimurti, Brahma is the creator of everything. Vishnu is the preserver of nature. Shiva is ultimate destroyer who brings about change whenever it becomes necessary.
Hinduism is labelled as the oldest religion in the world. But it is much more too – the Hindu mythology has been tolerant of other religions and traditions since its inception. In terms of scriptures, it is a delightful concoction of epic stories of morality and uprightness. These stories gave us ideal characters like Rama, Laxamana and the Pandavas among many. The Vedas give us insight on ancient science and astronomy. Epics like Mahabharata and Ramayana narrate divine stories of the never ending battle between the good and the evil. The profuse history of ancient Hindu mythology fascinates the Hindu followers and non – followers alike.