Ever since I read The Trojan War in Class 6 and a condensed form of The Odyssey in Class 7, I’ve become life-long lover of Greek and Classical mythology. The one thing that strikes me as I dive deeper and deeper into these stories is how similar they are to Hindu myths. After all, the two civilizations shared many traits: they were both polytheistic, they encouraged debate and argument as a form of learning, and they nurtured a rich tradition of storytelling and art.
So perhaps it’s not surprising that our myths are similar. But some of the parallels are so striking that one cannot help but wonder whether maybe, just maybe, these stories came down from a common ancestor before they branched out into their respective versions. I’m not a historian, so I cannot say for sure, but sample these and make up your own minds.
There are three main Gods
Both Hindu and Greek mythology are centered around three main Gods that are the designated leaders. Just like we have our Vishnu, Brahma and Shiva, they have Zeus, Hades and Poseidon who respectively rule the heavens, the underworld and the seas. Curiously, Indra, the Hindu king of the Gods, is but a caricature and is often depicted in stories as vengeful and petulant. Zeus, in contrast, is all-powerful and feared by all his subjects.
The king of Gods is a womanizer
If there is one trait that Zeus and Indra share, it is their love of women. A complete list of Zeus’s lovers is going to occupy a post by itself, so I will just name a few here: Ganymede, Selene, Io, Callisto, Europa and Danae, all of whom were given a place in the cosmos as the planet Jupiter’s satellites. Indra’s most famous conquest is that of Ahalya, whom he seduces after taking the form of her husband, Sage Gautama. The modus operandi is also similar to Zeus’s: the latter once seduces Persephone after she becomes the queen of the underworld by assuming the form of her husband and his younger brother, Hades. (Does it get creepier than that?)
The weapons are the same
Indra is considered the God of rain, and his weapon, the Vajrayudha, is said to be a thunderbolt. Though there is no competing myth in the case of Zeus as to how the weapon came into being, his very voice carries a deep rumble, it is said, and he’s often depicted in art with a live streak of lightning trapped in his closed fist.
Poseidon, the second God of the trinity, wields the trident, much like Shiva. Hades doesn’t have the noose or the mace, but hey, two out of three ain’t bad.
The God of death is also the God of justice
Hades unfortunately gets cast as the villain in most contemporary retellings of the Classical myths, but he’s perhaps the most virtuous of the three brothers. He resides in the underworld and passes judgement on the souls that pass from one life to the next. He’s known for his sense of justice. In that sense he’s very much like our own God of Death, Yama.
The messengers of the Gods have similar characteristics
Hermes is the son of Zeus. He’s quick and cunning. He can move between the world of Gods and the world of men at will. He’s the messenger of the Gods. In many myths he’s a trickster who outwits the Gods for the good of humankind. Narada, the Hindu equivalent, shares all these traits, except that he’s the spiritual son of Vishnu, the most important God of the Trinity.
They’re mountain dwellers
The Gods of both cultures live on mountains. If Zeus presides over Mount Olympus, Indra rules over Mount Meru.
The god of love shoots arrows at people’s hearts
Like Manmatha, who revels at shooting flowery arrows at people’s hearts to make them fall in love, so does Cupid, son of Aphrodite, though it is not known what mysterious substance he dips his arrows into to make a heart long for another.
The Goddess of water sires the foremost hero of the age
In the Iliad, Thetis, the sea Goddess, mother of Achilles, does everything she can to prevent her son from embarking on the journey to Troy, because she knows he will die before its walls. At his death, she comes in a wave to take her son’s body deep into the sea before he could be cremated. In the Mahabharata, Ganga, the river Goddess, gives birth to Bhishma, who goes on to die in the great war of his age. And on his fall, too, his remains are returned to his mother. In both epics the most valiant and powerful hero of the age is sired by a Goddess of water.
I’m sure these are not the only parallels between the two mythologies. Can you think of some more?
Image Courtesy: Deviant Art