Culture

Mythology – Historical Facts or Metaphorical Truths?

According to Hindu mythology, Anjaneya flew over a sea; Ravana had ten heads and Vamana, the dwarf-avatar of Vishnu, measured the entire universe with his feet. How believable are these mythological stories and how relevant are they in today’s world of logical thinking and scientific advancements? If the stories are nothing more than fiction and phantasy, why should we consider them as valuable and as eminent literature?

Before assessing the value of mythologies further, let us learn what they are truly about. Are mythological stories historical accounts of people who lived in the past? Myths are not historical records in a conventional sense. It is not easy to validate the people and the events using acceptable historical methodologies or through adequate archaeological evidence. These limitations are constrained further by the availability of several versions of a mythology. For example, there are at least ten or more versions of the epic, Ramayana, leading to the question, which version is a true representation of the events. If mythologies are not historical narrations, are they religious doctrines communicated through fictional stories? Mythologies are not religious doctrines either because the stories do not promote a specific creed or a belief system. If they are neither about history nor about religion, what are they about?

Mythological stories are about us, the ‘average’ individual. Using fictional events and actors, they illustrate to who we are, what we are, and what we should be. Through stories, they reveal to us our inner spirit and the values that personify that spirit. They emphasize themes that are common to all humanity, “... meaning of life as it progresses from birth to death; understanding phenomena that elude rational inquiry and finding oneself through self-inquiry.” The life-like characters show us that that our problems are our own making and that we are the source of them all.

When we view the stories, not as history or as religion but as subliminal messages, we begin to perceive that Rama or Krishna or Duryodhana and Ravana are not fictional characters but are representations of

the good and the bad that live within us. We also begin to perceive the consequences of our good and bad decisions and how we must embrace the good and discard the bad. As the characters highlight, we realize that dealing with our shortcomings won’t be easy – even Rama and Krishna had their failings – and that we should constantly strive to overcome them.

The core message of every mythology is the same, human values. Each culture narrates these values through different actors and different events. Regardless, they always communicate these values through symbols and metaphors. For example, in Hindu mythology, the character of Rama is a metaphor for sacrifice, duty, responsibility, and commitment. Anjaneya is a metaphor for loyalty and friendship – one who was determined to overcome all hurdles to fulfill his promise to his friend Rama (his flying over a sea would make sense when we interpret it as a metaphor rather than as a historical fact). Likewise, Krishna is a metaphor for upholding dharma. Therefore, it is the subliminal messages, not the factuality, that make mythologies invaluable and indispensable.

Dr. Ram S. Sriram www.vidyarthi.org

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