Indian mythology

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Shiva and his wife Parvati
(marble statue)

The Indian mythology is largely based on the ideas of Hinduism , but also other Indian religions such. B. Jainism and the Indian folk religion , own myths. Hindu mythology can be traced back to the hymns of Rigveda (from 1200 BC), to epics such as the Mahabharata (400 BC to 400 AD) and the Ramayana as well as the Puranas . Hinduism is based on the idea of ​​permanent rebirth ( reincarnation ) and the eternal cycle of becoming and passing away ( samsara ).


The Indian heaven of gods has undergone several changes: The old Vedic gods such as Indra , Agni and Varuna were displaced over time by Shiva , Vishnu and Krishna . Shiva is mentioned under the name Rudra , who was first revered as an independent deity and was later equated with Shiva. Vishnu is mentioned specifically in the Veda , but it was not yet of great importance. Krishna was initially a son of a royal myth and was only venerated as Vishnu's secular likeness and eighth avatar since the national epic Mahabharata . He is also equated with Vishnu.

The gods manifest themselves in the earthly world in the form of incarnations ( avatars ) to protect the Dharma (cosmic law). This is particularly true of Vishnu, who is usually worshiped in ten incarnations, such as the most popular of the divine heroes, Rama and Krishna .

Main gods

The highest Indian gods form a Trimurti (trinity), which represents becoming and passing away: Brahma as creator, Vishnu as sustainer and Shiva as destroyer. Her wives are Sarasvati (goddess of wisdom), Lakshmi (goddess of happiness) and Parvati , who is also worshiped as Durga (an all-goddess) or Kali (the black woman) . Ganesha , the popular elephant-headed god, is the son of Shiva and Parvati, another son is Karttikeya . Maya is the goddess of illusion. In Shaktism , God is worshiped in the female form ( Shakti , Devi ) as the highest.

Second gods, mounts, demons

In addition to the main gods, there are also mythological beings who are also of central importance. There are also cosmological myths. The mounts of the main gods each have their own mythology. For Vishnu, for example, the mount is the Garuda , for Shiva the bull Nandi , for the goddesses it is a tiger or lion, and Ganesha rides a rat. The mounts symbolize the power of God in the world. There are also mythological cosmologies, Mount Meru is one of the most important mythologems, the myth of the Milky Ocean and the Ganges also play an important mythological role. Various ancient deities ( Asuras ), who are fought as adversaries in mythology, are also of importance . B. Mahishasura , and therefore have been demonized over time. Indian mythology also knows demons of the underworld, e.g. B. the Rakshasas , which should not be confused with the Asuras.

In the folk religion and local traditions of gods, heroes and other beings appear Yakshas and Nagas are to be mentioned here, and in some parts of India the horse mythological and ritual plays a major role. Countless goddesses who only belong to one village and are present almost everywhere are also of local tradition.

Writings and Distribution

The most common works of Indian mythology are the Ramayana , the Mahabharata and the various Puranas . Every Hindu faith and school has its own central works, which are cultivated and handed down with special devotion. So the followers of Vishnu and Krishna have the Bhagavatapurana , followers of the Goddess ( Devi ) on the other hand have the Devi Bhagavata and the Devi Mahatmya from the Markandeyapurana. In Vedic-Brahmin orthodoxy, these works do not have the status of the Vedas and Upanishads , but in practice it is they that impart all religious knowledge to the believers. Superficially, the mostly fairy-tale stories tell of battles and adventures of the past, of gods, heroes and demons - of innumerable human fates, for believers, however, the various levels of meaning convey religious wisdom.

Much of these stories seem to have sprung from the imagination - but at the core there is also something historical: they pass on the history of the country and the ancestors and glorify their deeds. Orally carried on throughout the Indian subcontinent through the centuries, they are still extremely alive today. While children used to hear the old stories from their parents and grandparents, today it is media such as film, television and, above all, comics, in which the mythical stories are conveyed. Contemporary Indian art also deals with these works again and again.


The essence of the gods portrayed personally is best recognizable by their attributes; not only what you hold in your hands is important, but also the hand position ( mudras ) itself, companion animals, hairstyle, clothing and seat. The iconography of these 'murtis' is laid down in the Puranas in every detail . Nevertheless, they cannot be clearly explained. No teaching can be derived from it, but the admirer knows the message: The right raised hand with the inner surface directed at the admirer promises protection and comfort, the hand pointing downwards, for example with Lakshmi , the goddess of happiness, is an expression of her grace and promises spiritual as well as material gifts.

See also