Indian Mythology

Kurukshetra

In a country like India, where every fact is infinitely malleable and where every interpretation is politicized, the need to distinguish between history and mythology is more important than ever.

Myths were created by human beings to explain previously inexplicable phenomena such as how the universe was created and where thunder and lightning came from. Unlike history, myths are not meant to be verified.

Myths are thus associated with the religious and cultural beliefs of a people. They do not inquire into the past the way history inquires.

They are valuable nonetheless for helping to create a sense of a common origin among people and in explaining the basis of their religious and cultural values and institutions.

Mythology is the means by which most Indians (Hindus) have sought to understand the past. The mythology of the Vedas, the Mahabharata, the Ramayana and the Puranas, are thus as, if not more, important to the Indian than the legend of King Arthur is to the English or the Kojiki is to the Japanese.

Here are some key myths from Hindu mythology in context:

  • The origins of humanity: the first man is Manu from which the Sanskrit word for man (‘manava’) is derived. Manu saves the world’s animals from the Great Flood (Adam and Noah in one!) and is the father of the first kings and queens in Indian mythology.
  • Dynasties, Kings and Sages: ancient Indian dynasties typically claim descent through lines traced back to one of Manu’s two children (Ishvaku and Ila). The hero of the Ramayana, Rama, traces his ancestry to the line associated with Ishvaku, [1] while the Pandvas and the Kauravas of the Mahabharata trace their descent from the line associated with Ila.[2]

The Puranas contain genealogical lists of kings and sages (e.g. Kashyapa, Atri, Vishvamitra, et al) in a manner reminiscent of the list of patriarchs, prophets and progenitors in the Old Testament (e.g. from Abraham to Ham, Shem, Canaan and Rachab).

  • Bharata: The word for “India” in Sanskrit, “Bharata,” derives from the eponymous mythical emperor. Bharata is believed to have united much of what we now call India stretching from the Himalayas to Cape Comorin.

The “Bharata” were also an ancient clan mentioned in the Vedas which emerged victorious in battle over other Indo-Aryan tribes and clans.[3]

  • The Class (Caste) System: in the Vedas, the cosmic man (Puruṣa), is said to have been divided into four parts. From his head came the Brahmin class (priests and teachers), from his arms and torso came the Ksatriya (warrior), from his legs came the Vaisya (farmers and merchants) and from his feet came the Sudra (servants).

These are just some of the myths which Indians and Hindus look to in understanding themselves and the origins of India.

 

Notes

[1] The Sūryavaṁśa (solar dynasty).

[2] The Candravaṃśa (lunar dynasty).

[3] The Mahabharata also takes its title from this clan.

 

 

The Aryans of India

 

aryan migration

During my mid-twenties, one of my aunts told me that we (ethnic Punjabis) were descended from the Aryans of ancient India.

I first learned about these Aryans while studying Indian history during my undergraduate degree. I learned that that the Aryans had originally migrated into India from the north-west and that they first settled in the Punjab around 1500 BCE. I also learned that their religious beliefs and lifestyle were recorded around 1200 BCE in a literature known as the Vedas.

Like me, most peoples of the subcontinent (particularly northern India, Pakistan and Bangladesh) claim to be descended from the (Indo) Aryans. The term Indo-Aryan refers not only to an ethnic group (which is religiously, culturally and regionally diverse), but also to a family of languages spoken by this group, including Punjabi, Hindi/Urdu, Bengali and Gujarati.

Of course, not everyone believes that the Aryans migrated to the subcontinent from the outside. Few are more outspoken in their opposition than the Hindu Nationalist who believes that the Aryans were indigenous to India.

This is, of course, really just a political claim. To claim that the ancestral religion of Hinduism (in the Vedas) is native to India is to claim that it “belongs” to India in opposition to those Indians belonging to “foreign” religions (i.e. Muslims and Christians).

Fantasizing about purity of race and origin, however, turn deadly. We can think of Hitler’s ideas about the Aryan Race as German, the Ku Klux Klan theory of the Teutonic Race or the Japanese idea of the Yamato Race during World War II.

Over the past nearly thirty years, Hindu Nationalism has stirred up pogroms, vandalism and attacks on India’s minority groups (especially Muslims, Christians and Dalits or lower-castes). Its pogroms, including the Gujarat “riots” of 2002 against Muslims has left thousands dead and their homes and places of worship vandalized or destroyed.

Hindu Nationalism basically seeks to rationalize and politicize an emotional need: the need to belong and to know oneself. Mythology is a human institution that fulfils that need by giving us a sense of where we come from. Mythologies like those in the Vedas are Puranas, like those in the Bible or King Arthur are valuable in giving us a sense of who our ancestors might have been without needing to be factually verifiable.

To that extent, I have read the Puranas and the Mahabharata.  I am fascinated, as someone of Indian origin, about where I come from and how my ancestors thought of themselves as a people and about my origins. But my fascination is much the same as someone who reads old genealogies of the Bible or of a Han Chinese taking pride in his descent from the Yellow Emperor.

So, I will call myself Indo-Aryan, Punjabi, Sikh, British, Canadian and Buddhist. I can have a sense of where I come from in terms of mythology without proclaiming it as history for political purposes or otherwise. Living on the land of the Coast Salish People in British Columbia, I realize that they too were like the ancient Aryans in migrating across territories rather than being bound by them.

The Hindu Pakistan

Modi with petals

India finally has the dictator it always wanted.

Narendra Modi has won a majority of seats in India’s election and is set to be re-elected as the country’s Prime Minister.[1]

Since coming to power in 2014, Modi’s administration has effectively co-opted the Indian media, judiciary and co-opted under the banner of Hindu Supremacism. Together, they have created a New India of book burnings, student arrests and the slaughter of Muslims, Christians and low-caste Hindus.

As James Crabtree points out in The Billionaire Raj, India’s economy has grown under Modi to become one of the most unequal on earth. Much of the benefits of this growth, Crabtree argues, has accrued to India’s billionaires class and their family run conglomerates (the Ambanis, the Godrej’s and the Birlas) rather than middle-class.

Under Modi, India has become the Hindu Pakistan, an India where Brahmanism (the religious ideology sanctifying caste) and capitalism march hand in hand. The constituents of a fascist society as explained by Jason Stanley in How Fascism Works (i.e. a strong charismatic leader, a romanticized vision of the past, an imagined ‘other’ etc.) were already well underway during the Prime Minister’s first term.

Now, they will be given an opportunity to come to fruition.

[1] https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-india-48389130?intlink_from_url=https://www.bbc.com/news/topics/cg41ylwvgmyt/narendra-modi&link_location=live-reporting-story

2019 Dhahan Prize Youth Award for Creative Writing – March 14 Surrey

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You are cordially invited to
The Dhahan Prize launch of
The 2019 Youth Award for Creative Writing
8 PRIZES VALUED AT $500 EACH
Thursday, March 14th
10:30-11:30 a.m.
LA Matheson Secondary School, Surrey
9484 – 122 Street, Surrey V3V 4M1

The event will host speakers including:
The Principal, teachers, and students of LA Matheson Secondary School
A representative of sponsoring partner, Coast Capital Savings
Founder of the Dhahan Prize

Snacks and Refreshments will be served

For more information, visit
dhahanprize.com/youth

Download PDF poster:
Dhahan Prize – 2019 Youth Prize Invitation
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Drums of Change: A Review of Fauzia Rafique’s The Adventures of SahebaN

‘Want a book that’ll change you? Let me be the first to recommend @RafiqueFauzia ‘s “The Adventures of SahebaN” an incredible tale that had me laughing until I wept. Read my review at the link below and you’ll see what I mean.’ Jessica Barrett

An amazing out-of-the-blue review by Jessica Barrett of my novel ‘The Adventures of SahebaN’ posted to twitter this morning. Thank you @JessicaBarratt
“SahebaN is the feminist warrior I hadn’t realized I was missing.”
“Rafique has succeeded in creating a feminist commentary that no audience is safe from.”

WordsofHers

Being a Canadian woman writer of European descent, I came into Fauzia Rafique’s The Adventures of SahebaN without background knowledge of the role (Mirza) Sahiba plays in much of traditional Punjabi culture. The beauty of Rafique’s text however, is how my lack does not impact my understanding of how the narrative turns a cultural model for perfection (Sahiba) on her head to showcase the flaws of that very perfection, and (in particular) to show that a woman can be honourable, and pure, and loyal, without bowing to the restrictive ideas and expectations that society and religion place upon her.

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PLEA Presents the 16th Mother Language Day on February 23 at KPU Surrey

You are warmly invited to participate in the 16th celebration organized by Punjabi Language Education Association (PLEA) on International Mother Language Day.

This year’s event will take place at
Kwantlen Polytechnic University (KPU)
Surrey Campus, Cedar Building Atrium
Saturday, February 23, 2019 – 1:30 p.m.
Free parking, light refreshments

Download English and Gurmukhi Punjabi posters
PLEA Feb.23,2019.PosterUni
PLEA Feb.23,2019.Poster.Eng

For more information, contact
Sadhu Binning at 778-773-1886
Balwant Sanghera at 604-836-8976

PLEA’s Facebook group page
facebook.com/groups/PunjabiLanguageEducationAssociation
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Welcome Author/Publisher Parveen Malik to Vancouver – Dhahan Prize 2018 Events

This year, as part of the celebrations of Dhahan Prize for Punjabi literature, Pakistan’s renowned author, poet and publisher Parveen Malik will be visiting Vancouver. ‘Parveen Malik is a writer of fiction, teleplays and radio programs; a known literary personality on radio and TV; and, a highly respected publisher of Urdu and Punjabi literary books.’ More about Parveen is here: parveen-malik-punjabi-maanboli-writer

Parveen will participate in ‘Afternoon with Winners and Finalists’ on Sunday October 21st at Crossroads United Church in Surrey.
View the details in the poster below.

The main Dhahan Prize 2018 Awards Ceremony will take place on:
Saturday October 20th
6:00 PM – 9:30 PM, at:
Robert H. Lee Alumni Centre
UBC, 6163 University Blvd
Vancouver, BC V6T 1Z1
More information:
eventbrite.com/e/dhahan-prize-2018-awards-ceremony

Uddari congratulates the 2018 Dhahan Prize winners:
Baldev Singh Sadaknama for ‘Sooraj Dee Akh’ (Sun’s Eye), historical fiction.
Nasir Baloch for ‘Jootha Sacha Koi Na’ (Anything Goes), short story collection.
Harpreet Sekha for ‘Prism’, short story collection.
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