The Hindu religion is the oldest religion whose origin can be traced back to prehistoric times around 5000 to 10,000 BC. So it is no wonder that many of the myths, beliefs, and mythologies surrounding the religion are just as old. In fact, given this timeline, many of these mythologies may have gone through a number of retellings over the years. Hindu mythology has rich history, enigmatic characters, resounding stories, and a surprisingly innate association with modern science. There are also cyclical periods of time that repeat themselves after a certain interval. There also are epics like Mahabharata and Ramayana, the former being the longest known epic in history. Here is a list of the top 10 most interesting facts about ancient Hindu mythology:
10. The Hindu Epics
The Hindu epics were written to create moral ideals for followers to aspire to. These epics were written in Sanskrit and in their essence described the power of the Hindu gods in poetic verse. The most popular of 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 his evil nemesis Ravana. The epic speaks volumes on the virtue of true brotherhood, love, and the nature of sacrifice one has to make to defeat evil.
The Mahabharata is the longest epic ever written and gives an in-depth insight into the rise of Hinduism between 400 BC and 200 AD. In fact, its entire narration is seven times the length of the Illiad and the Odyssey combined. Apart from its glorious narration of the fight between the Kauravas and the Pandavas, it also details the scripts of the Bhagavat Gita. From beginning to end, it describes the great battle that pit brother against brother. In time, the Bhagavat Gita went on to become the epitome of Hinduism’s sacred scripture.
9. Treta Yuga
This represents the second age in the cycle of Maha Yuga. The Hindu scripts state that Treta Yuga spans a period of 1,296,000 human years. By the advent of Treta Yuga, the presence of sattva or goodness in human nature had slowly started to diminish. Whatever goodness or virtue that remained in people was now accompanied by an ever-increasing amount of tamas and rajas. Tamas represented the darkness in human nature and rajas constituted 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.
People’s stature was now smaller than during the Satya Yuga, with the average human being around 14 cubits tall, but there were some exceptional beings who had attained a godly build and divine persona such as the characters Rama, Laxamana, Ravana, and Hanumana who were considered godlike for their extraordinary strength and inimitable intellect.
8. Dwapar Yuga
Dwapar Yuga represents the third age right after Treta Yuga. Also known as the Bronze Age, the Dwapar Yuga is said to have lasted for 864,000 human years. It represents an age where goodness and evil in human nature are neck and neck. As the human body loses satva or purity, people attain a far greater control over their body than their intellect. By the time Dwapar Yuga was at its peak, man had already lost control over his innermost body and knowledge. He became more attracted to the materialistic aspects of the world, succumbing to his ever-increasing desires. Only intellectuals like Bhisma, Dharmaraja, and Vidura were able to escape this fate. Eventually, there was a gradual decline in the moral fiber of society in general. People with enormous physicality became increasingly offensive in their thirst for desire and power. The average human lifespan had also come down to 1,000 years.
7. Kali Yuga
The last age in the ever-repeating cycle of Maha Yuga is the Kali Yuga. It is also the shortest, lasting for 432,000 human years. The current time period falls under Kali Yuga, and it is also referred to as the Iron Age. The Kali Yuga represents hypocrisy and instability like never before. Human nature is significantly corrupted by the temptations of sin and only a little 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 5,000 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 highlighted by man’s unprecedented longing for materialism. In a stark contrast to previous ages, human lives have been corrupted by ignorance and the connection to one’s inner self has been lost.
6. The Curses
Curses have a long and intriguing history in many different mythologies. The Hindu gods rarely cursed for they wielded power mighty enough to inflict whatever suffering they wished upon others. But still, there have been many instances of unique curses within Hindu mythology that are worth mentioning.
In the epic Mahabharata, the Pandavas were hit by immense sorrow on realizing Karna was their half-brother all along. They had just killed him in battle. An enraged Yudhisthara could not believe their mother Kunti would keep such personal information from them, so he made a curse that no woman from then on should be able to keep a secret from others. Then, there is the curse on the character Pandu that if he ever approached a woman with feelings of desire, he would die on the spot.
However, probably the most notable curse of all is when Gandhari cursed Lord Krishna in the aftermath of the Mahabharata. After defeating the Kauravas and killing all 100 sons of Gandhari, Krishna went to console a distraught mother. On seeing Krishna, Gandhari cursed that no one in Krishna’s bloodline would live to see future generations. And just as the Kauravas bloodline had been terminated, all of Krishna’s family killed each other in due course. Krishna died an untimely death with no one left to continue his bloodline.
5. The Vedas and Modern Science
The Vedas represent a collection of hymns and religious texts that were formulated somewhere between 1500 and 1000 BC. These sacred verses were written in the Indus region where it is believed Hinduism originated. 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 the existence of multiple universes in string theory. It states we live in a multiverse – there are many universes that exist in parallel. The Hindu Vedas clearly echo this “modern” concept by mentioning the existence of cyclical infinite worlds in the ancient Hindu cosmology. The sacred texts in the Vedas and the Bhagavad Gita were perfect in their understanding of the universe. In fact, Albert Einstein once said: “When I read the Bhagavad Gita and reflect about how God created this universe everything else seems superfluous.”
4. Foundation of Hinduism
Hinduism is quite unlike other traditional religions. It did not originate from a single founder or 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 odds with each other. So naturally, there are different theories on the origin of the world’s oldest religion. Its first mention can be traced back to the earliest 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 traced back to ancient India around 5500 BC. It is unclear if these traditions 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 the 19th and 20th centuries, when English colonial rule saw rapid expansion in India. Evidence also shows that an ascetic god named Siva was popularly worshiped by the Indus Valley civilization around 3000 BC. The greatest of all epics, the Mahabharata, was written somewhere between 400 BC and 200 AD, and it gave an immense insight into Hindu mythology in the form of the Bhagavad Gita along with other historically important texts.
3. Satya Yuga
Hindu mythology clearly states that all living beings pass through a continuous cycle of creation and destruction, the Maha Yuga. This cycle repeats itself over four different epochs or Yugas. The first of these Yugas is the Satya Yuga, which spans 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 attained an ideal state of mind and their actions were 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 adhered to the truth. Everyone had acquired 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 verbal communication. Human physiology also significantly differed from the one that we exhibit today. People used to be around 31.5 feet (21 cubits or 80cm) tall. They also had a lifespan that stretched over hundreds of thousands of years.
2. Gods and Goddesses
Hinduism follows a polytheistic tradition. 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 Hindu mythology. Each of these gods and goddesses symbolize a certain aspect of life. For example, the goddess Saraswati is the source of all knowledge and wisdom and the 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 basis for the whole of Hindu mythology.
However, the Vedas clearly state there are only 33 major deities. The transition into 300 million gods came during the Upanishadic age in an attempt to reflect the infinite nature of the universe. Despite such large numbers of gods and goddesses, Hindus are primarily devoted to a single god. All the 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
Hindu mythology provides several accounts of how exactly the creation of the universe took place. The answers themselves go into varying degrees of complexity since there have been different approaches at different times. Perhaps the most popular approach states that the highest deities were oblivious to their own presence before the existence of time itself. Before creation, there was no time, no heaven or earth, or space in between. There was only 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).
Ancient Hindu scriptures state that the ultimate reality (Brahman) has three main functions. These three characteristics are seen in 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 called the Trimurti. In the Trimurti, Brahma is the creator of everything, Vishnu is the preserver of nature, and Shiva is the ultimate destroyer who brings about change whenever it becomes necessary.
Hinduism is considered to be the oldest religion in the world. But it is much more than that. Hindu mythology has been tolerant of other religions and traditions since its inception. In terms of scripture, it is a delightful concoction of epic stories of morality and righteousness. These stories give us ideal characters like Rama, Laxamana, and the Pandavas. The Vedas give us an insight into ancient science and astronomy. Epics like Mahabharata and Ramayana narrate divine stories of the never-ending battle between good and evil. These are the reasons that the rich history of Hindu mythology is fascinating for both Hindus and non-Hindus.