When it comes to Hindu mythology, it seems like even non-lovers of the subject can at least name the Trimurti of Brahma the Creator, Vishnu the Preserver and Shiva the Destroyer (all seen seated to the left, having a kaffeeklatsch) but the other gods and goddesses of the Hindu pantheon get short shrift. So, in the spirit of my look at the Eleven Most Neglected Deities in Teutono- Norse Mythology comes this examination of some of the Hindu deities that I feel deserve more attention than they seem to get. For other pantheons I’ve dealt with see the following links:
SHINTO MYTH –http://glitternight.com/shinto-myth/
HAWAIIAN MYTH PART 2 – http://glitternight.com/2011/03/02/eleven-more-deities-from-hawaiian-mythology-2/
NEW!!!!! INUIT MYTHS – http://glitternight.com/2011/06/06/the-top-12-deities-from-inuit-mythology-2/
Plus see my pages on Navajo, Vietnamese, Inuit and Bunyoro myth.
11. YAMA – The god who ruled over the land of the dead. He and his sister Yami were the first mortals on Earth and were children of the sun god Surya (or in some traditions he simply created them). Since they were the first mortals they were also the first human beings to die and the two became the Raja and Rani of the afterlife, (though Yami also became the goddess of the Yamuna River) similar to some other First Couples in world mythology. There are even alternate traditions in Christianity, Islam and Judaism in which Adam and Eve assume that role.
The river Vaitarani surrounds the realm and Yama, armed with a noose and a club, sat astride a buffalo judging the souls of the newly arrived dead. Two fierce dogs with four eyes each guard the road approaching him. Chitragupta, the recorder of souls, read out the soul’s virtuous and vile acts to Yama so that he could arrive at a judgement. He would send the soul to a heavenly home, or to one of the twenty-one hells, or back to the world for rebirth. For recreation Yama plays a flute and drinks the divine intoxicant Soma. In Hindu belief the soul of the deceased takes one hour and forty minutes to reach the land of the dead, therefore corpses may not be cremated until at least that long after death.
10. AGNI – The god of fire in the Hindu pantheon. He is often depicted with two red faces and with seven tongues to lap up the melted butter offered in sacrifices. His presence in the hearth means he is aware of what goes on in every household, like the hearth-god Ong Lo in Vietnamese myths. He was invoked by lovers for virility (the god of Viagra) and married couples walked seven times around a sacred fire to sanctify their union.
Agni’s brother is the storm god Indra, who would sometimes extinguish out-of-control fires with heavy rainfall. In the epic myth The Mahabharata Agni consumes the entire Khandava Forest despite Indra’s disapproval. Agni is recognized as an aspect of Shiva the Destroyer. “Aspects” of gods in Hindu mythology are different from “incarnations” of gods, like the ten incarnations of Vishnu or the twenty-eight incarnations of Shiva. Aspects can all exist simultaneously, not one at a time like incarnations. Agni’s association with Shiva is logical since new creation always followed the periodic destruction wrought by Shiva, just as forests and older structures were often burned down in India so that something new could be created in their place.
9. GANGA – The goddess of the river Ganges, which was represented as the Milky Way as it flowed across the heavens, then flowed through the Himalayas to start its Earthly course and then flowed through the underworld as well. Ejaculate was often considered the Ganges flowing from the head of the penis.Ganga was originally one of the three wives of Vishnu, along with Saraswati and Lakshmi. Finding three such powerful wives to be too much for him to handle Vishnu kept Lakshmi alone and gave Saraswati to Brahma and Ganga to Shiva.
Shiva is the mediating force that accomodates the fall of the Ganges from the heavens down to Earth, otherwise the powerful flow would deluge the planet. Like the goddess Parvati, Ganga is the daughter of the mountain god Himalaya. Ganga’s son by Shiva is Skanda, the god of war. One metaphorical description of that birth depicts Skanda as a spurt of semen from Shiva that was so intensely hot that only the waters of the Ganges could cool it. As it cooled, Skanda was formed, like a child in a womb.
8. VAYU – The wind god, who flew through the sky in a chariot pulled by reindeer. Vayu was depicted as forever wandering and of uncertain temper. He ruled over northwest India, from which came cooling winds from the Himalayas. Vayu once caused winds so intense that they tore off the upper peak of Sumeru (the Mt Olympus of the Hindu deities) and set it down in the ocean where it became the island of Sri Lanka. That island became the home of the demonic Rakshasas led by their king Ravana.
Since India was often at war with Sri Lanka the powers that be propogandized that the inhabitants of the island were not human, but were merely cannibalistic Rakshasas in human form, therefore it was okay to slaughter them wholesale. The wind god’s sons include the semi-divine Pandava hero Bhima, but his most prominent offspring is the monkey-god Hanuman, who aids the demi-god Rama (an incarnation of Vishnu) in his quest to recover his wife Sita from Ravana, king of the demonic Rakshasas. Hanuman could fly by calling on his father Vayu’s winds to propel him through the sky.
7. SARASWATI – The goddess of speech, eloquence and the river Saraswati, whose smooth flow and musical sound led to the goddess’ association with the gift of elegant expression. The Saraswati River marked the border of the ancient Aryan land called Brahmvartta and the goddess’ waters offered purification to any traveler crossing into that land.
Saraswati was originally a wife of Vishnu before she became Brahma’s bride, yet, it was the god Shiva who ordained that anyone who bathed in the Saraswati River and worshipped him would find nothing impossible in this life or their next one. When Shiva’s son Ganesha was born Saraswati’s gift to him was a writing pen with colored inks. Saraswati was also called Vak and an alternate myth about her depicts her as the first-born of Brahma (as his aspect Purusha, the primordial god of the cosmos), literally being his first uttered “words”, a myth that should intrigue Gnostics and Christians alike.
6. RUDRA – The howling god of the wilderness and of savage behavior in humans and animals. Like the Polynesian god Kane/Tane and the Vietnamese god Tan Vien he was looked on as the lord of the jungle and all its gifts, both plant and animal. Some sources attribute his association with uncontrollable behavior to the intoxicating effect that eating fermented fruit and vegetation has on man and beast. Alain Danielou goes so far as to compare Rudra to Dionysus since both gods’ retinues were known for destructive, drunken behavior.
Less contested is Rudra’s identification as an aspect of Shiva the Destroyer. Like the fire god Agni, Rudra has both destructive and creative attributes, in Rudra’s case his sovereignty over the plant life of the jungle, which can be used as either poisons or medicines. Rudra’s quiver of arrows was said to carry one thousand shafts with which he could lay mortals low with arrows of poisons and diseases or cure them with medicinal arrows.
The most famous myth about Rudra involves the destruction he wrought when he was not invited to the sacrificial ceremony of Brahma’s son Daksha. Crashing the party, Rudra broke Yama’s staff, decked Indra, shattered Saraswati’s nose, gouged out Mitra’s eyes, tore off Bhrigu’s beard and knocked the cattle god Pushan’s teeth down his throat. Pushan’s subsequent toothlessness is why his devotees offer him gruel and other foods that do not need to be chewed.
5. PARVATI – The mountain goddess and a wife of the god Shiva. Her father was the mountain god Himalaya (“mountain king”) and Ganesha was her son. In myths, Parvati is sometimes depicted attempting to calm Shiva and restrain his destructive energies, often via sex. In this sense Parvati was seen to embody all women as a more positive outlet for male energy that might be destructive if unleashed in other ways. (Don’t shoot the messsenger, here, people. I’m just relaying the concept, not endorsing it)
She is also considered the originator of Kundalini sex acts. When the demon Taraka and his minions were preying upon the gods, Parvati and Shiva were busy having marathon sexual relations until Brahma and Vishnu came to summon the Destroyer to vanquish Taraka.
On another occassion, when Shiva was deep in meditation and neglecting his and Parvati’s marital bed the goddess (or in some versions Vishnu) called upon the god Kama to fill Shiva with renewed desire for Parvati. Kama did so, but Shiva was so angry at the god for rousing him from his meditations that he used his third eye to blast Kama to nothingness. After that it was said the only physical form Kama had was to be found in the bodies of two people intertwined in intercourse.
Parvati is also referred to as Gauri, meaning “golden” or “glistening”, a reference to her beautiful skin, and some sources mistakenly list Gauri as a whole separate deity, rather than merely an epithet of Parvati. This goddess is sometimes seen as either a twin sister of or the mother of the goddess Kali.
4. INDRA – This Hindu storm god was the king of the deities and their chief warrior in the Rig Veda. Clouds were looked on as “the cattle of Indra” and rain was said to be the milk of those cows nourishing the Earth. Indra shot arrows of lightning, just like the Navajo war god Nayanazgeni, and the bow he shot them with was the rainbow, often seen following rains.
Indra was said to be the offspring of the primordial god of the cosmos Purusha and a cow. The storm god’s earliest heroic feat was slaying Vritra, the serpent of drought, thus freeing the waters. This king of the deites was depicted riding into battle on Airavata, his war elephant. Indra’s lordship of war was later taken over by Shiva’s son Skanda. Similarly, the god’s role as the vanquisher of all the monstrous foes of the deities was later assumed by Vishnu and Shiva.
All of these developments are characteristic of political changes that precipitated a calculated diminishment of Indra, the patron god of the warrior caste. That diminishment was engineered by the Brahmins, the priestly caste, who used their position to elevate their own patron god, Brahma, at the expense of Indra and their rivals in the warrior caste. This was accomplished by taking the majestic and heroic Indra of the Rig Veda and gradually transforming him into the boorish, buffoonish and weak Indra of later myths.
Even his victory over Vritra was later subverted by depicting Indra getting a swelled ego after the deed and annoying the god Tvashtar, the architect of the Hindu deities (Frank Lloyd Wright was the son of Tvashtar and a cow. I’m kidding!) with endless requests to add new wings to his palace. Tvashtar complained to Vishnu who set Indra straight. The storm god was also depicted being taken captive by the Rakshasa king Ravana, requiring Brahma’s intervention to free him.
The most scandalous myth involving the diminishment of Indra involved him having an affair with the wife of the sage Gotama. The sage then cursed him for it, causing a thousand vaginas to form all over Indra’s body, which is why “sa yoni” (thousand yoni, or vaginas) became an epithet of the storm god. In a later bowldlerization of the myth the yoni became a thousand eyes instead.
3. KALI – The goddess of time, the inexorable, relentless destroyer of us all. Kali is one of the most misunderstood figures in Hindu mythology. She is often depicted as evil, but in actuality she is simply the embodiment of an inescapable force, being never malicious but is just “doing her job” like a Grim Reaper figure.
Kali is depicted with weapons in each of her ten hands and snakes writhing about her neck. She wears a necklace of human skulls and a skirt made from severed human arms. As the goddess of time she led all of the previous universes to their inevitable day of destruction just as she will with our current universe at the end of the Kali Yuga (“Kali Age”).
In some versions of this repeated universal destruction the end comes when the third eye of Kali’s husband Shiva opens, blasting Brahma the Creator, waking him up. Since Brahma in this version “dreams the dream that is the universe” this awakening signals the end of that universe. In other versions it is not Brahma’s awakening that destroys the universe but Brahma falling asleep that does it. Either way, Kali ushers in the end, which is facilitated by Shiva, and afterward Brahma creates the next universe.
Since Kali irresistably washes even the Trimurti along in the time stream she is sometimes depicted as superior to them, most notably when she is pictured dancing all over Shiva’s prostrate corpse. Kali supposedly came into being when the goddess Parvati, another wife of Shiva, cleansed herself and the discarded pollutants coalesced into Kali, who embodies all the dark attributes of the goddess as Parvati embodies all of the positive attributes. For this reason Kali is sometimes considered the daughter or sister of Parvati. (Insert your own “She’s my sister AND my daughter” joke here.)
2. GANESHA – The resourceful, elephant-headed god of learning who bestows wisdom and helps believers to overcome obstacles in their undertakings. Ganesha is invoked by writers, artists and architects at the start of their works and by entrepreneurs at the start of any business undertaking. To modern audiences Ganesha may be best known as the god worshipped by Apu on The Simpsons.
The god is often depicted riding a giant rat, his familiar animal because of the cunning, indefatigable way rats pursue their goals. Ganesha is the son of Parvati and Shiva (or in some versions, just Parvati) and half-brother of Skanda, the god of war. His mother Parvati once instructed him to prevent anyone from bothering her while she bathed and Ganesha took the instructions so seriously that he even tried to prevent his father Shiva from visiting the bathing goddess. Shiva angrily used his third eye, in the center of his forehead, to blast Ganesha’s head off. Parvati was a bit put out by this development, so Shiva beheaded Indra’s war elephant and gave Ganesha the elephant’s head instead.
When Ganesha competed with his half-brother Skanda to win the goddesses Siddhi and Buddhi as wives it was decided the competitors would race around the world, with the swiftest traveler the winner. While Skanda actually traveled the globe, Ganesha simply described the world from all the books he had read, convincing the judges he had actually traversed the planet first and won the ladies. An alternate version states that while the war god raced around the world Ganesha simply walked once in a circle around Shiva and Parvati, thus winning the race since one’s parents are “the world.” Ganesha is sometimes glibly described as a Hindu equivalent of the Greek god Hermes or the Egyptian god Thoth.
1. LAKSHMI – The goddess of love, beauty, fertility and prosperity of all kinds. Lakshmi was spawned by the Churning of the Ocean, the same milestone event that created the divine intoxicant Soma, Indra’s war elephant, the jewel Kaustubha and many other items from Hindu myths.
Often called the lotus goddess, Lakshmi is depicted sitting on a throne of lotus petals, holding a lotus in one hand. She is also associated with the thousand-petaled lotus that was the “womb” giving birth to Brahma himself. (That is why I personally think Brahma should be removed from the Trimurti and be replaced by “Devi the Creator”, since Devi is seen as the source of all feminine emanations of divinity, just as Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva are seen as the combined sources of all masculine emanations of divinity. Plus it would serve him right after what happened to Indra.)
Lakshmi’s son is Kama (as in Kama Sutra), who flew around randomly shooting his arrows of desire into human hearts. Kama’s wife is the lust-goddess Rati. Lakshmi is the sole remaining wife of Vishnu, making them the premier “power couple” of Hindu mythology, though devotees of Shiva and Parvati might argue the point. In each of Vishnu’s ten incarnations Lakshmi incarnates as his mate. For instance when he incarnates as the demi-god Rama, Lakshmi incarnates as his wife Sita. When Vishnu incarnates as the demi-god Khrishna, she incarnates as the milk-maid Radha, and so on and so forth. There is still some arguing over how Lakshmi will incarnate as her husband’s mate in his tenth and final incarnation, which is yet to come. That final incarnation of Vishnu will be Kalki, the pale godling who is destined to appear amid the chaos at the end of the universe.
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