Tuesday, September 9, 2014

2.1 Why Hindu Mythology

Hindu mythology is a maligned phrase. Hinduism purists who believe that the events described in the sacred texts happened exactly as stated have a problem with these events being described as mythological. Their objection is understandable. The word mythological today has acquired a sense of falsehood. But after due consideration, I have decided to persist with the term Hindu mythology. Therefore, a clarification is in order.

OxfordDictionaries.com offers the following independent definition for mythology: A set of stories or beliefs about a particular person, institution, or situation, especially when exaggerated or fictitious. [1] Dictionary.com offers a similar definition: A set of stories, traditions, or beliefs associated with a particular group or the history of an event, arising naturally or deliberately fostered. [2]

My sense of mythology fits in with these definitions. I do not believe that the events described in the texts under consideration occurred as stated. I believe that the described events are exaggerated or fictitious or deliberately fostered versions of the actual ones. However, I prefer to use the word dramatized to those given in the dictionary definitions. The dramatization of actual events has a specific purpose. The idea is to entrench the ethos underlying those events into the collective psyche of the society.

Let me illustrate this with an example. Way back in school when studying the world history I was taught about Cleopatra.  I do not remember anything from those lessons.  But I have a vivid recollection of the Hollywood film Cleopatra starring Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton, which obviously dramatized events. Several scenes from the movie are impressed in my memory. In one of them Cleopatra unleashes a tirade on Julius Caesar when his soldiers have burnt the library of Alexandria. She tells Caesar that his soldiers could have raped, murdered, pillaged all they wanted but they had no right to destroy a library that was the store house of the world’s knowledge. [4] It is historically recorded that the library did burn down. But Caesar’s soldiers were responsible for burning at best a part of the library, and even that is not certain. [3] And it can never be known if Cleopatra did admonish Caesar. That is why it is dangerous to take mythology for history. You can get the details wrong. But the dramatized version does provide insights. Even at that time knowledge was valued and efforts were made to preserve it. And it helps you to remember the broad superstructure that would be true to a degree.

Therefore with apologies to the purists, I will move ahead.

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