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  • Hey there, I'm Mike Rugnetta and this is Crashcourse mythology.

  • Today, we're going to tackle one of the most difficult and fascinating pantheons in

  • all of mythology.

  • It's got dancing dwarves, buffalo demons, and some many armed folks.

  • Yessir there's a lot going on in this pantheon!

  • Maybe even more than in the Egyptian pantheon.

  • Sorry Thoth.

  • In this episode, we'll talk about the pantheon of deities in Indian myths.

  • Unlike myths from Egypt and the Ancient Near East, there are living people for whom these

  • stories have deep, personal, religious meaning.

  • Remember how it got a little uncomfortable when we discussed the Bible's creation story?

  • Well, it's gonna be a bit like that.

  • But we're gonna try to minimize the awkwardness.

  • Just ask--wait, there's no god of awkwardness?!

  • Ruh roh.

  • INTRO

  • Discussing the Indian pantheon is tricky for two reasons: first because it remains a living

  • belief system for about a billion people.

  • And second because Indian religious and mythic traditions are not only abundant but also

  • ancient.

  • As in Egypt, there are different sets of gods and goddesses that were worshipped at different

  • points in time.

  • But unlike Egypt, India was and is home to many different languages, which means we have

  • a lot of different stories, each with many different versions.

  • We are going to focus mostly on stories that have been written in Sanskrit, the sacred

  • language of Hinduism.

  • Sanskrit first appears in written form around 150 CE in a series of rock inscriptions that

  • look much more complex than what I've inscribed on rocks.

  • This probably doesn't sayParvati wuz here!

  • Vishnu + Lakshmi 5eva.”

  • Let's remember that Sanskrit is a complex language and its poetry may sound unusual

  • to English ears.

  • But we can handle it.

  • Lead the way, Bragi, Norse God of poetry.

  • In the earliest Indian traditions, Dyaus the sky father, and Prithvi the earth mother were

  • central.

  • Hey, sky dad and earth mom!

  • Nice to see you over here, too!

  • Do you mind if I drop off some cosmic laundry?

  • Later, however, Surya the sun god, Agni the fire god and Indra the warrior king of the

  • gods took top God Billing from mom and dad, who were arguing all the time!

  • Sky dad, earth mom, knock it off!

  • Just stop the fighting!

  • We can all get along.

  • Indra was the child of the sky and the earth, and was responsible for keeping them separate,

  • but had his own beef with another god, Varuna, who may once have been the ruler of the gods,

  • but was supplanted by Indra.

  • Hey, even god's got beef, right?

  • Wonder if one of them recorded a diss track...

  • Anyway, the most well-known myth about Indra is about his battle with Vritra, a giant serpent

  • or dragon, whom Indra kills, thus creating the sun, the dawn, and they sky.

  • (Yeah, I knowyou thought we had sky covered but, mythology is tricky.)

  • The death of Vritra also gave form to chaos.

  • Which is nice.

  • So yup, it's our old friend the creation story, but with violence instead of sex.

  • In a number of stories, Indra is described as battling and destroying hostile minor deities

  • and demons.

  • I mean, someone has to, right?

  • And so maybe, you're thinking yay, Indra.

  • He fights the good fight.

  • Buthe also breaks oaths,kills family members and commits adultery with Ahalya, the wife

  • of the sage Gvautama.

  • For which he lost his testicles.

  • Cherries emoji.

  • Scissors emoji.

  • Face Screaming in emoji.

  • But hey wait, it's OK. in another myth he has them replaced with those of a ram.

  • Emoji.

  • So...um...guess that worked out.

  • Indra's weapon of choice is a thunderbolt, similar to Zeus, and by India's classical

  • age he becomes a god of rain.

  • And this changing function over time is generally emblematic of Indian myth.

  • Like the Egyptian pantheon, it's difficult to pin down one canonical set of myths or

  • characters because they appear in so many forms, often with multiple names.

  • Here's another version of how things get going: In the Vedas, which are the most ancient

  • Hindu scriptures, Prajapati was the creator god, but over time, and especially in the

  • Upanishads, another collection of important Sanskrit texts, the less anthropomorphic concept

  • of Brahman developed.

  • Brahman isn't a GOD so much as the all-encompassing essence of reality, the supreme cosmic spirit.

  • Pretty cool, right Thoth?

  • It's not something you can easily represent on a sandstone relief, but then again it's

  • not that dissimilar fromgodin monotheistic religious traditions.

  • Brahman has sometimes been translated as theworld souland all individual souls

  • are one with it.

  • Don't get too comfortable, though, because Brahman, in later classical Hindu mythology

  • and religion, is embodied and personified as three deities: Brahma, the creator, Vishnu,

  • the preserver, and Shiva, the destroyer.

  • They are all distinct, with their own stories, and yet also represent aspects of the more

  • esoteric and universal idea of Brahman.

  • This triumvirate?

  • Trifecta?

  • Divine Hat Trick?

  • Hindus call it the trimurti and Vishnu and Shiva loom largest in Indian myths.

  • So then, why is Brahma third banana?

  • Well, once the universe is created, the work of the creator is done.

  • True, The concept of cyclical existence is central to the Hindu and Buddhist worldview,

  • so you'd think a creator would be considered among the most important gods.

  • Still, Brahma's significance declined in comparison with that of Vishnu and Shiva,

  • perhaps because, according to John Brockington: Essentially he is a fusion of a creator deity

  • with the impersonal Brahman propounded in the Upanishads, which see the goal of religious

  • endeavor as some kind of union with the absolute, whereas the popular forms of religion attested

  • to in the epics prefer a more personal and devotional approach.

  • In other words, Brahma doesn't really get involved in the juicy stuff-- battles and

  • quests and adultery.

  • So let's turn to Vishnu, the preserver.

  • Stories of Vishnu often involve his consort Shri, also called Lakshmi, a goddess of prosperity

  • and good fortune, which is pretty terrific as dowries go.

  • Vishnu protects the world from evil, and he often appears in different forms calledavatars”.

  • Avatars are the human or animal form of a god on earth and they are very, very rad.

  • By the classical period, Vishnu had 10 or so avatars:

  • Matsya, the fish, who we'll hear more about when we talk about floods

  • Kurma the tortoise, who played a role similar to the tortoise in the earth diver myth that

  • we saw Varaha, the boar who is a boar and does boar

  • stuff Narasimha the man-lion who kills the demon

  • Hiranyakashipu Vamana, the dwarf who defeats the demon Bai

  • through trickery Parashurama who kills the hundred-armed Arjuna

  • with an ax and probably has amazing biceps Rama and

  • Krishna who are central to the Mahabaratha, one of the great Sanskrit epics

  • The Buddha who is the Buddha.

  • You know.

  • From Buddhism.

  • Kalkin who is a future avatar and a millennial figure that will establish a new era.

  • But not like, a millennial millennial.

  • Kalkin is not on Snapchat.

  • Shiva, the destroyer, had his origins in the Vedic era as a storm god who was a “wrathful

  • avengerand a “herdsman of souls,” which definitely sounds trickier than sheep.

  • Shiva is also associated with yoga, asceticism and erotic love.

  • Which definitely sounds contradictory.

  • Or maybe just flexible.

  • This erotic aspect manifests most concretely in Shiva's symbolic form as a linga, which

  • is self-explanatory if you look at it, and might explain why Shiva has numerous female

  • deities as either wives or consorts, including Sati and Parvati, and sometimes Durga and

  • Kali.

  • Basically, Shiva has game.

  • One of the best known images of Shiva is his depiction asl the lord of the danceno,

  • definitely not, yes.

  • According to one scholar: “His steps are intended to relieve by enlightenment

  • the suffrage of his devotees: hence he balances on the back of a dwarf who symbolizes ignorance.

  • His gestures and the attributes he is holding symbolize aspects of his divinity; the drum

  • in his back right hand [symbolizes creation], the tongue of flame in his back left hand

  • [symbolizes destruction], the gesture of protection [of his front right hand symbolizes] protection

  • and his raised leg symboliz[es] release.”

  • Has Michael Flatley ever balanced on the back of a dwarf?

  • I rest my case.

  • Now we've spent most of the episode discussing the three key gods of the trimurti and their

  • amazing dance moves, but Indian pantheons feature goddesses, too, who usually have qualities

  • that complement their husband's powers.

  • I mentioned Parvati and Uma and Sati, the wives of Shiva, and Laskshmi, who is married

  • to Vishnu.

  • But other traditions describe the goddess Devi, which translates togoddessor

  • Mahadevi, the great goddess, who is occasionally associated with these other consorts and sometimes

  • seen as a world creator in her own right.

  • In some traditions Devi is essentially the same as Brahman.

  • Like many of the deities we discuss, Devi can be many things to many people.

  • We haven't seen too many female warrior goddesses yet.

  • So let's wrap up with a story that features one: Durga, also known as Kali, who is unapproachable

  • to her suitors and invincible in battle.

  • Also she rides a lion.

  • So clearly - no one is cool enough to date her.

  • Thoughtbubble, do your thing.

  • One of the main stories about Durga is that of her killing the buffalo demon Mahisha.

  • Mahisha conquered the other lesser gods, the Devas, and then the Devas went to Vishnu and

  • Shiva for help, who listened and grew angry.

  • And you wouldn't like Vishnu and Shiva when they're angry, because their anger takes

  • the form of Durga, who confronted Mahisha and the other demons.

  • The demons rushed towards the goddess who killed them in hundreds, felling some with

  • her club, catching others in her noose, slicing others with her sword, and piercing others

  • with her trident.

  • Meanwhile, Mahisha himself, in buffalo form, terrorized her troops.