Mythologies and Reigious Symbolism

Lucid presentation of world mythologies from Indic perspective. Here we derive from the works of Sri Aurobindo, Nataraja Guru, Tagore, Anantha Koomaraswamy, Joseph Campbell, Carl Gustav Jung, Sheldon Kopp,Fritjof Capra, Dr.Subash Kak, Dr. Vilayanur Ramachandran, Prof.Susan Blackmore and many others

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Meeting Death-1: Nachiketas

This story is from Katho Upanishad (KU).
In ancient India Vajasravasa a seer performed a sacrifice. The sacrifice he performed required him to give away all his possessions. But he gave away the cows 'that have given their milk for the last time and
would cave no more'
. Boy Naciketas son of Vajasravasa noticed this act of his father and was filled with grief. He went to his father and asked him thrice to whom he would gift Naciketas. This he did to make his father see the folly of his actions. But his father getting irritated,shouted that he would give Naciketas to Death (Yama).

Then Vajasravasa realized what he had told. He was grief-struck. Nevetheless Naciketas was determined to go to the abode of death. He consoled his lamenting father and left for the abode of Death.

At the entrance of the palatial mansion of the lord of Death, the young seeker waited three days and three nights. He ate not anything and drank not a drop of
water. So when Yama the lord of death saw the young boy waiting in patience and determination, he was pleased with Naciketas. So he granted him three boons.

With the first boon Naciketas wanted that his father should make peace with him. With the second boon he asked what is the sacrifice through which humans can
achieve the celestial abode of bliss. To this query Death told the young boy the means to heaven, thus:

"I know well the fire O Nachiketas, which leads to heaven, and I tell it to thee. Learn it from me. Know that it is the means of attaining the eternal heaven and the
support of the world and is dwelling in the heart of the learned." (KU 1.14)

Then Death explained to him in detail the other aspects of this sacrifice. Then when Death discovered that Nachiketas had absorbed all he told he was so pleased
with Nachiketas.

Now for the last boon. Nachiketas asked for the secret of what happens after death. Lord of Death refuses this request. He instead offers the youth vast empire, all
pleasures of the world, fast moving horses - of war chariots- beautiful dancing girls and musicians to please him. But Nachiketas is determined. He flatly rejects all temptations Lord of Death offers. Nachiketas says:

"All these are more transient, O Death They wear out the vigour of all the senses of man. And the whole span of life is but short. So keep thy horses, dance and song for thyself" (KU 1:26)

At last Yama obliges. He is happy that Nachiketas is indeed a worthy human to learn this secret over which even Gods are confused. He taught the secret to
Nachiketas. Nachiketas returned to life and taught this to humanity.

Nachiketas having been so instructed by Death in this knowledge and in the whole process of Yoga became free from all impurities and death and attained Brahman (impersonal cosmic oversoul) and so will attain any other too who knows thus the inner self (KU 6:18).

Now this story contains many elements we see in mythologies worldwide and some significant changes also.

For example the following.

Both Jesus and Buddha are also mythoogical heroes subjected to temptations. Joseph Campbell has pointed out a significant difference in the temptations of both
Jesus and Buddha. The temptation of Jesus was mainly concerened with the temporal power - mastery over the world. Satan took Jesus above the mountain and
showed him vast expanse over which he promised mastery. But for Buddha it is mainly sensual. Mara showed him all the pleasures of the flesh that he could get if
he were to leave the quest. In Nachiketas we see the combination of both.

The wisdom is forbidden. The forbidden wisdom is a recurring theme as the forbidden fruit of Eden as well as the fire of Zeus which was kept away from humanity
before Prometheus brought it.

In Nachiketas rejecting the tempting offers of Yama we see not only the way Jesus and Buddha overcame their temptations but another mythological hero Prometheus
who rejected the gifts of Zeus after he brought the fire from Zeus to his people. Yama revealing the secret of the inner fire to Nachiketas further shows a bond.

The three days at the abode of death shall recur again in the Jesus mythology where the saviour would be dead for three days before he comes back.

However there are some crucial differences.

Nachiketas rejecting the temptations and offers, does not offend Yama. Rather he is pleased. Nachiketas receives the initially forbidden wisdom willingly from a
superior god. The Hindu god is willing to share the forbidden wisdom with humanity and make humanity as divine as the gods.

This may explain why in the later evolution of religions Hinduism does not have a centralized theological structure - despite a social evoution of a weekly knit priest community- while such structure is a must for Christianity.

Meeting the death : Intro

Yama God of Death

Meeting death is an important recurring themes in many mythologies. In Hindu, Mesopotamian, Greek and many other mythologies meeting Death and returning figures again and again. Often death is contrasted against love. A lover who has lost his or her lover goes to the nether world or world of death to rescue him/her back. This act also involves a sacrifice. But not always the hero travels to the world of death with the aim of rescuing a lost lover. Sometimes it is to bring salvation also.

We shall see soon some of these mythologies soon.

Mythologies of the world

Aim is to present the world mythoogies in a lucid way and with an emphasis on Indic way of viewing the mythologies. Mythologists like Joseph Campbell psychologists like Carl Jung, Sheldon Kopp as well as Eastern savants like Sri Aurobindo, Nitya Chaitanya Yeti scientists like Dr.Vilayanur Ramachandran, Dr.Subash Kak and academics like Kosambi and archeologists like B.B.Lal, S.R.Rao - and their seminal works based on mythologies shall be discussed.

I welcome you all to this blog of mine.


s. aravindan neelakandan