Hindu mythology

Hindu mythology are narratives found in Hindu texts such as the Vedic literature,[1] epics like Mahabharata and Ramayana,[2] the Puranas,[3] the regional literatures like Periya Puranam. Hindu mythology is also found in widely translated popular texts such as the Panchatantra and Hitopadesha, as well as Southeast Asian texts.[4][5]

Hindu mythology does not often have a consistent, monolithic structure. The same myth typically appears in various versions, and can be represented differently across socio-religious traditions. These myths have also been noted to have been modified by various philosophical schools over time and particularly in the Hindu tradition. These myths are taken to have deeper, often symbolic, meaning, and have been given a complex range of interpretations.[6]


The Hindu Epic literature is found in genre of Hindu texts such as:

Many of these legends evolve across these texts, the character names change or the story is embellished with greater details, yet the central message and moral values remain the same. According to Wendy Doniger,

Every Hindu epic is different; all Hindu epics are alike. (...) Each Hindu epic celebrates the belief that the universe is boundlessly various, that everything occurs simultaneously, that all possibilities may exist without excluding the other. (...) There is no single basic version of a Hindu epic; each is told and retold with a number of minor and major variations over the years. (...) Great epics are richly ambiguous and elusive; their truths cannot be filed away into scholar's neat categories. Moreover, epics [in Hinduism] are living organisms that change constantly. (...)


Hindu epic shares the creative principles and human values found in epic everywhere. However, the particular details vary and its diversity is immense, according to Doniger.[8] The Hindu legends embed the Indian thought about the nature of existence, the human condition and its aspirations through an interwoven contrast of characters, the good against the evil, the honest against the dishonest, the dharma-bound lover against the anti-dharma bully, the gentle and compassionate against the cruel and greedy. In these epics, everything is impermanent including matter, love and peace. Magic and miracles thrive, gods are defeated and fear for their existence, triggering wars or debates. Death threatens and re-threatens life, while life finds a way to creatively re-emerge thus conquering death. Eros persistently prevails over chaos.[8][9]

The Hindu epics integrate in a wide range of subjects. They include stories about how and why cosmos originated (Hindu cosmology, cosmogony), how and why humans or all life forms originated (anthropogony) along with each's strengths and weaknesses, how gods originated along with each's strengths and weaknesses (theogony), the battle between good gods and bad demons (theomachy), human values and how humans can live together, resolve any disagreements (ethics, axiology), healthy goals in stages of life and the different ways in which each individual can live (householder, monk, purusartha), the meaning of all existence and means of personal liberation (soteriology) as well as legends about what causes suffering, chaos and the end of time with a restart of a new cycle (eschatology).[10][11][12]


A significant collection of Vaishnavism traditional reincarnations includes those related to the avatars of Vishnu. The ten most common of these include:

  1. Matsya: It narrates a great flood, similar to one found in many ancient cultures. The savior here is the Matsya (fish). The earliest accounts of Matsya mythology are found in the Vedic literature, which equate the fish saviour to the deity Prajapati. The fish-savior later merges with the identity of Brahma in post-Vedic era, and still later as an avatar of Vishnu.[13][14][15] The legends associated with Matsya expand, evolve and vary in Hindu texts. These legends have embedded symbolism, where a small fish with Manu's protection grows to become a big fish, and the fish ultimately saves earthly existence.[16][17] [18]
  2. Kurma: The earliest account of Kurma is found in the Shatapatha Brahmana (Yajur veda), where he is a form of Prajapati-Brahma and helps with the samudra manthan (churning of cosmic ocean).[19] In the Epics and the Puranas, the legend expands and evolves into many versions, with Kurma becoming an avatar of Vishnu. He appears in the form of a tortoise or turtle to support the foundation for the cosmos and the cosmic churning stick (Mount Mandara).[20][21][22]
  3. Varaha: The earliest versions of the Varaha or boar legend are found in the Taittiriya Aranyaka and the Shatapatha Brahmana, both Vedic texts.[23] They narrate that the universe was primordial waters. The earth was the size of a hand and was trapped in it. The god Prajapati (Brahma) in the form of a boar (varaha) plunges into the waters and brings the earth out.[23][24] In post-Vedic literature, particularly the Puranas, the boar mythology is reformulated through an avatar of god Vishnu and an evil demon named Hiranyaksha who persecutes people and kidnaps goddess earth.[25][24] Varaha-Vishnu fights the injustice, kills the demon and rescues earth.[23]
  4. Narasimha: The Narasimha mythology is about the man-lion avatar of Vishnu. He destroys an evil king (Hiranyakashyapu), ends religious persecution and calamity on Earth, saves his devotee (Prahlad) from the suffering caused by torments and punishments for pursuing his religious beliefs, and thereby Vishnu restores the Dharma.[26][27]
  5. Vamana
  6. Parashurama
  7. Rama
  8. Krishna
  9. Buddha
  10. Kalki

See also


  1. Arthur Anthony Macdonell (1978). Vedic Mythology. Motilal Banarsidass (Reprint). pp. 1–9. ISBN 978-81-208-1113-3.
  2. Edward Washburn Hopkins (1986). Epic Mythology. Motilal Banarsidass. pp. 1–3. ISBN 978-81-208-0227-8.
  3. Yves Bonnefoy (1993). Asian Mythologies. University of Chicago Press. pp. 90–101. ISBN 978-0-226-06456-7.
  4. Patrick Olivelle (1999). Pañcatantra: The Book of India's Folk Wisdom. Oxford University Press. pp. xii–xiii. ISBN 978-0-19-283988-6.
  5. Paul Waldau; Kimberley Patton (2009). A Communion of Subjects: Animals in Religion, Science, and Ethics. Columbia University Press. pp. 186, 680. ISBN 978-0-231-13643-3.
  6. Jacqueline Suthren Hirst, Myth and history, in Themes and Issues in Hinduism, edited by Paul Bowen. Cassell, 1998.
  7. Wendy Doniger O'Flaherty (1975), Hindu epics: A Sourcebook translated from the Sanskrit, Penguin, ISBN 978-0140449907, pages 11, 21-22
  8. Wendy Doniger O'Flaherty (1975), Hindu epics: A Sourcebook translated from the Sanskrit, Penguin, ISBN 978-0140449907, pages 11-22
  9. George M. Williams (2008). Handbook of Hindu epic. Oxford University Press. pp. 2–4, 14–18. ISBN 978-0-19-533261-2.
  10. George M. Williams (2008). Handbook of Hindu epic. Oxford University Press. pp. 15–31. ISBN 978-0-19-533261-2.
  11. Ronald Inden (1991). David Parkin (ed.). Hindu Evil as Unconquered Lower Self, in The Anthropology of Evil. Wiley. pp. 143–164. ISBN 978-0-631-15432-7.;
    W.D. O' Flaherty (1994). Hindu Epics. Penguin Books. pp. 36–37. ISBN 978-0-14-400011-1.
  12. Arvind Sharma (2000). Classical Hindu Thought: An Introduction. Oxford University Press. pp. 38–39, 61–64, 73–88. ISBN 978-0-19-564441-8.
  13. Krishna 2009, p. 33.
  14. Rao pp. 124-125
  15. "Matsya". Encyclopædia Britannica. Encyclopædia Britannica Inc. 2012. Retrieved 20 May 2012.
  16. Bonnefoy 1993, pp. 79-80.
  17. George M. Williams 2008, pp. 212-213.
  18. Sunil Sehgal (1999). Encyclopaedia of Hinduism: T-Z, Volume 5. Sarup & Sons. p. 401. ISBN 81-7625-064-3.
  19. Roshen Dalal 2010, p. 217.
  20. James G. Lochtefeld (2002). The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Hinduism: N-Z. The Rosen Publishing Group. pp. 705–706. ISBN 978-0-8239-3180-4.
  21. Constance Jones; James D. Ryan (2006). Encyclopedia of Hinduism. Infobase Publishing. p. 253. ISBN 978-0-8160-7564-5.
  22. Cornelia Dimmitt; JAB van Buitenen (2012). Classical Hindu Mythology: A Reader in the Sanskrit Puranas. Temple University Press. pp. 74–75. ISBN 978-1-4399-0464-0.
  23. Nanditha Krishna 2010, pp. 54-55.
  24. J. L. Brockington 1998, pp. 281-282.
  25. Roshen Dalal 2010, p. 45.
  26. Gavin D. Flood (1996). An Introduction to Hinduism. Cambridge University Press. p. 111. ISBN 978-0-521-43878-0.
  27. George M. Williams 2008, p. 223.


  • Clay Sanskrit Library publishes classical Indian literature, including the Mahabharata and Ramayana, with facing-page text and translation. Also offers searchable corpus and downloadable materials.
  • Sanskrit Documents Collection: Documents in ITX format of Upanishads, Stotras etc.
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