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Author Topic: Reading the Mahabharata  (Read 433 times)

Altair

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Reading the Mahabharata
« on: September 24, 2019, 08:39:34 pm »
At the boyfriend's suggestion, we're simulreading the Mahabharata, the great Indian epic. We're still in the very beginning, where the various incarnations of gods and lineages of personages are being explicated in great detail (equivalent to the Christian Bible's "begats," I would say).

But one thing I find extremely confusing is the hierarchy of the Hindu gods. No doubt this is because of the long history of the Hindu pantheon and shifting sects through the centuries...but still, I'm hoping that someone can shed some light:

--Brahma is described as the "grandfather of the gods," "origin of all beings," and "senior" to the other gods...

--...Indra is said to be "the king of the gods"...

--...yet Vishnu (incarnated as Krishna) is said in the intro to be "supreme lord of all" and the central god of the Mahabharata

I'm familiar with the concept of the Trimurti--three gods as aspects of one--which would seem to place Brahma, Vishnu, and Siva as of equal rank. Yet here we seem to have competing ideas of who the supreme god is. Can anyone help me make sense of this?

The first song sets the wheel in motion / The second is a song of love / The third song tells of Her devotion / The fourth cries joy from the sky above
The fifth song binds our fate to silence / and bids us live each moment well / The sixth unleashes rage and violence / The seventh song has truth to tell
The last song echoes through the ages / to ask its question all night long / And close the circle on these pages / These, the metamythos songs

Jainarayan

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Re: Reading the Mahabharata
« Reply #1 on: September 25, 2019, 10:35:25 am »
No doubt this is because of the long history of the Hindu pantheon and shifting sects through the centuries...

That's actually pretty much it.

Quote
--Brahma is described as the "grandfather of the gods," "origin of all beings," and "senior" to the other gods...

--...Indra is said to be "the king of the gods"...

--...yet Vishnu (incarnated as Krishna) is said in the intro to be "supreme lord of all" and the central god of the Mahabharata

Brahmā is the creator god, creator of what is in the universe, not the universe itself. No one really knows how it came about. See the Text and translation section of the Nasadiya Sukta of the Rig Veda. Typically it's believed that it always existed and always will, because the universe is Brahman (different from Brahmā). Brahmā is not immortal. A "day" of Brahmā (24 hour period) is 8.64 billion years. One year of Brahma = 3.1104 trillion human years. His lifetime of 100 years = 313.5 trillion human years, after which he "dies", sleeps for another 100 years (313.5 trillion human years). He is then reborn from a lotus that sprouts from the navel of Vishnu. Seriously, Hindu stories are nothing if not colorful. Brahmā did have children, usually they were born of his thoughts and desires. So, being eldest, and having fathered/created beings, he's considered a grandfather.

Indra is a deva, a non-immortal deity. Each iteration of reality (and they are from infinity to infinity) has its own Indra, as it has its own Brahmā. Indra is the King of Heaven, leader of the devas, god of rain, lightning, thunderstorms, righteous battle.

In the Vaishnava sect (my sect) Vishnu is considered the Supreme God, Brahman Itself. Shaivas and Shaktas (devotees of Shiva and Goddess, respectively) have the same belief about Shiva and Devi (Goddess). There's usually complete harmony between sects, because it's understood that no matter what form of God/dess one worships, they are all forms of one God. We all just see God differently:

Índraṃ mitráṃ váruṇam agním āhur átho divyáḥ sá suparṇó garútmān;
Ékaṃ sád víprā bahudhā́ vadanty agníṃ yamáṃ mātaríśvānam āhuḥ.


"They called him Indra, Mitra, Varuṇa, Agni; yea, he is heavenly Garuḍa, who has beautiful wings.
That which is One, the sages speak of as multifarious; they called him Agni, Yama, Mātariśvan." - Ṛg Veda 1.164.46

The bold part is most important. It's why Hinduism has such a universal bent.

Quote
I'm familiar with the concept of the Trimurti--three gods as aspects of one--which would seem to place Brahma, Vishnu, and Siva as of equal rank. Yet here we seem to have competing ideas of who the supreme god is. Can anyone help me make sense of this?

Simple sectarianism and personal views and beliefs, as I mentioned above.

Did I miss anything?  ;D
śivāya vishnu rūpaya śivaḥ rūpaya vishnave
śivasya hridayam viṣṇur viṣṇoscha hridayam śivaḥ
Vishnu's appearance is Shiva; Shiva's appearance is Vishnu
Vishnu is the heart of Shiva; Shiva is the heart of Vishnu - Skandopanishad
 

Altair

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Re: Reading the Mahabharata
« Reply #2 on: September 25, 2019, 12:55:34 pm »
Hindu stories are nothing if not colorful.


You're telling me! I've only begun the Mahabharata, and already the colorful origin stories are, well, colorful.

Thanks for the insights. The Hindu conception of deity (including a trimurti) pretty much aligns with my own...though with completely different myths and, oh, a couple of hundred thousand more person-years of storytelling behind it. I've said it before, but if I wasn't my own strange brand of tree-hugging pagan, I'd probably be a Hindu.

Anyway, hopefully I'll make it all the way through the Mahabharata!
The first song sets the wheel in motion / The second is a song of love / The third song tells of Her devotion / The fourth cries joy from the sky above
The fifth song binds our fate to silence / and bids us live each moment well / The sixth unleashes rage and violence / The seventh song has truth to tell
The last song echoes through the ages / to ask its question all night long / And close the circle on these pages / These, the metamythos songs

Jainarayan

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Re: Reading the Mahabharata
« Reply #3 on: September 25, 2019, 12:57:26 pm »
Anyway, hopefully I'll make it all the way through the Mahabharata!

You will. You'll also find the Bhagavad Gita there.  ;)
śivāya vishnu rūpaya śivaḥ rūpaya vishnave
śivasya hridayam viṣṇur viṣṇoscha hridayam śivaḥ
Vishnu's appearance is Shiva; Shiva's appearance is Vishnu
Vishnu is the heart of Shiva; Shiva is the heart of Vishnu - Skandopanishad
 

Darkhawk

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Re: Reading the Mahabharata
« Reply #4 on: September 30, 2019, 02:08:52 pm »
I'm familiar with the concept of the Trimurti--three gods as aspects of one--which would seem to place Brahma, Vishnu, and Siva as of equal rank. Yet here we seem to have competing ideas of who the supreme god is. Can anyone help me make sense of this?

One thing to keep in mind: "Hinduism" is not unitary; "Hinduisms" may be a better mental framework.  Think of the ancient Greek city-states: more or less devoted to the same gods, but having regional differences not only in the prominence of various figures but in some cases very different mythologies.  (The surviving mythology we have is IIRC mostly Athenian but not entirely.)

Vaishnava Hinduism holds Vishnu to be the supreme power; Shaivite Hinduism holds Shiva to be the supreme power.  (IIRC, Shaivite tends towards southerly and Vaishnava northerly?)  Meanwhile, Shaktism (popular eastern India) places Devi as supreme power.  All of these traditions are in conversation with each other; an attempt to reconcile them somewhat (Smarta tradition) has a five-power system: Ganesha, Surya (I don't know off the top of my head if there are sun-prime branches but I wouldn't be surprised), Shiva, Vishnu, and Devi.

A lot of American understandings of Hinduism are set, to my understanding (from listening to a relevant person talk about the history) by the fact that a lot of the first immigrants were upper-caste Gujarati, and thus set expectations of things like vegetarianism and Vaishnav practice, which made these things normative, and the practices of other branches/regions treated as lesser or in some cases incorrect. (He apparently had to be told to chill the heck out the first time he saw a desi eating a hot dog.)

There are stories that explain why Brahma qua Brahma is not venerated the way Vishnu and Shiva are; there are others that express the supremacy of Shiva, Vishnu, and Devi that I've encountered, some of which are regional, some of which are not.
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as our ashes turn to dust
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Jainarayan

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Re: Reading the Mahabharata
« Reply #5 on: October 01, 2019, 11:10:37 am »
One thing to keep in mind: "Hinduism" is not unitary; "Hinduisms" may be a better mental framework.  Think of the ancient Greek city-states: more or less devoted to the same gods, but having regional differences not only in the prominence of various figures but in some cases very different mythologies.  (The surviving mythology we have is IIRC mostly Athenian but not entirely.)

Yep, spot on. :)

Quote
Vaishnava Hinduism holds Vishnu to be the supreme power; Shaivite Hinduism holds Shiva to be the supreme power.  (IIRC, Shaivite tends towards southerly and Vaishnava northerly?)


Like anything else, depends on the region north or south. There is a very strong Vaishnava tradition in Andhra Pradesh, Odisha (actually east central India) and Tamil Nadu. The Jagannath Temple in Puri, Odisha is a very important Vaishnava center. In fact, it's where the Rath Yatra (chariot festival) with a huge wooden chariot carrying the idol of Jagannatha (lit. "Lord of the Universe", Vishnu) is drawn through the streets. It's where we get the word juggernaut.

Another form of Vishnu in the south is Venkateshwara, Lord of Venkata, the city). Yet another one is Sri Guruvayurappan, actually the form of Vishnu as he appeared as Krishna to his parents at his birth. Tamil Nadu has a large Shaiva following. It's a pretty mixed bag.

Quote
Meanwhile, Shaktism (popular eastern India) places Devi as supreme power.  All of these traditions are in conversation with each other; an attempt to reconcile them somewhat (Smarta tradition) has a five-power system: Ganesha, Surya (I don't know off the top of my head if there are sun-prime branches but I wouldn't be surprised), Shiva, Vishnu, and Devi.

Absolutely correct. There is indeed a small sect called Saurya devoted to Surya, the sun.

Quote
A lot of American understandings of Hinduism are set, to my understanding (from listening to a relevant person talk about the history) by the fact that a lot of the first immigrants were upper-caste Gujarati, and thus set expectations of things like vegetarianism and Vaishnav practice, which made these things normative, and the practices of other branches/regions treated as lesser or in some cases incorrect. (He apparently had to be told to chill the heck out the first time he saw a desi eating a hot dog.)

There are stories that explain why Brahma qua Brahma is not venerated the way Vishnu and Shiva are; there are others that express the supremacy of Shiva, Vishnu, and Devi that I've encountered, some of which are regional, some of which are not.

All true. :)
śivāya vishnu rūpaya śivaḥ rūpaya vishnave
śivasya hridayam viṣṇur viṣṇoscha hridayam śivaḥ
Vishnu's appearance is Shiva; Shiva's appearance is Vishnu
Vishnu is the heart of Shiva; Shiva is the heart of Vishnu - Skandopanishad
 

sevensons

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Re: Reading the Mahabharata
« Reply #6 on: October 12, 2019, 03:28:09 am »
At the boyfriend's suggestion, we're simulreading the Mahabharata, the great Indian epic. We're still in the very beginning, where the various incarnations of gods and lineages of personages are being explicated in great detail (equivalent to the Christian Bible's "begats," I would say).

But one thing I find extremely confusing is the hierarchy of the Hindu gods. No doubt this is because of the long history of the Hindu pantheon and shifting sects through the centuries...but still, I'm hoping that someone can shed some light:

--Brahma is described as the "grandfather of the gods," "origin of all beings," and "senior" to the other gods...

--...Indra is said to be "the king of the gods"...

--...yet Vishnu (incarnated as Krishna) is said in the intro to be "supreme lord of all" and the central god of the Mahabharata

I'm familiar with the concept of the Trimurti--three gods as aspects of one--which would seem to place Brahma, Vishnu, and Siva as of equal rank. Yet here we seem to have competing ideas of who the supreme god is. Can anyone help me make sense of this?
Dashavatara would be my main guess to be the highest God blessings.
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