Comparative mythology is, indeed, a very absorbing and exciting subject. But it is also a tricky subject. Any investigation pertaining to this discipline involves some obvious risks. For instance, on the one hand, one is often tempted to read much in apparent-and even superficial-similarities of ideas in the mythologies of different cultures and then to fit in those ideas into a pre-conceived ideological framework; and, on The other hand, there is the tendency towards puritanical isolationism which rejects any suggestion of borrowing or external influence. I would like to congratulate Dr. Arora, the author of this interesting monograph, on having taken care to see that in avoiding Scylla he has not fallen into Chary bdis. He has tried to strike a commendable balance between various ramifications of the two extreme positions. Verily, judicious restraint may generally be said to be the keynote of his entire writing.
Dr. Arora has wisely chosen for comparative study only a few important topics in Indian mythology, such as the creation of the world, the four ages, the great flood, births and deaths of mythical personalities, metamorphoses, and supernatural maidens. And one hardly fails to notice that Le has assiduously brought an impressive array of literature, primary and secondary, to bear upon his treatment of these topics. But what has struck me most agreeably in this book is that Dr. Arora has not indulged in any unwarranted theorisation. He has left the facts so meticulously brought forth by him to speak for themselves—of course throwing out, off and on, intelligent suggestions which would certainly serve as helpful signposts.
Altogether we have here a valuable source-book in the field of Hindu mythology, and I welcome it as holding out sure promise of greater things to come.
The myths are the creation of a people whose vividly alive imagination was not checked by the rational knowledge of today. These imaginations which take the form of narratives cannot be taken, as they stand, as historically true, for they are greatly interspersed with narrations of impossible, or supernatural events. However, it would be wrong to take an extreme position and say that these myths are totally removed from the world of reality. The myths have been taken to represent reality of a different level than the historical. About the nature of this reality much study has been made from very early times and no explanation can be taken as final.
In ancient Greece two main theories were put forward to explain myths and they are followed even today by some scholars. One of these known as Euhrnerist theory, called after its originator Euhmeros (300 B.C.) saw in myths the apotheosis of human events. According to Euhmeros, the human heroes were deified by men whom they had ruled or benefited. Thus Zeus was taken as an actual king of Crete, who had overthrown the regime of Kronos. Like- wise the exploits of Herakles, Dionysus, Apollo, and various other deities were considered a disguise for the exploits of some powerful kings. Regarding the origin of Vedic god Indra, modern Indian scholar Dandekar" has taken a Euhmeristic view, for according to him Indra was originally a war hero of the Vedic Aryans.
The other Greek theory upheld by the poets Epicharmus (6th C.B.C.) and Theagenus of Rhegium (5th C. B. C.), and condemned by Plato," saw in myths, personifications of various natural phenomena. Thus Zeus was the sky, Poseidon stood for water; Hephaistos for fire, Hera for air, Aphrodite for the moist principle in nature, etc.
Besides the above two theories in ancient Greece a more rational view on the origin of myths was evolved by Eusebius of Caesarea. He propounded the theory that myths belong to a period of savagery, when man was devoid of ideas and was living like beasts.
The evidence of Yaska reveals that ancient Indians had also pondered .over the problem of myth interpretation. In a passage connected with the identification of Vrtra in Nirukta, it is clearly shown that from the very beginning there have been two main schools of interpreting Vedic mythology, the historical school i. e., of the Aitihasikas, the naturalistic school, i. e. of the Nairuktas. The former believed that Vrtra was a demon, a son of Tvastr, 'the latter on the other hand held that Vrtra represented a Cloud.
The ancient 'Nature-School' of myth was reasserted in a remodelled form in modern times by the famous German Sanskritisi F. Max Mueller. He and his followers saw in myths aspects of the motions or activities of the sun. Besides the 'Nature-myth Theory', in his Chips from a German Workshop (especially Vol. II). Maxmueller also explained myths as the sequelae of 'Disease of Language', i. e. confusions resulting from a misunderstanding of terms that persisted in speech after their original meaning was lost. He advocated belief in the 'Intellectual Past' and held that all myths and legends are symbolic tales told purposefully, The people in later generations forgot these symbols and hence attached other meanings to the words in the tales.
The Jesuit father Joseph Francois Lafitau (1681-1746), a French missionary in Canada, rediscovered the mode of approach adumbrated by Eusebius. In his book entitled Moeurs des Sauvages Americains Comparees aux moeurs des Premiers Temps (Paris, 1724) he showed the striking similarities between the manners and customs of the Canadian aborigines on one hand and ancient Hebrews and the Greeks on the other. His approach in modern times gave rise to 'Anthropo-ethnological' school of scholars like A Lang, E. B. Tylor, E. Durkheim, Levy Bruhl, H. Spencer, J. Frazer, etc. They reacted against the naturalistic interpretation. They do not believe in the 'Intellectual Past' and assert that myths and legends draw more upon the 'Savage thought'. meaning thereby that they are offshoots of man's imagination when he was in a pre~ civilized condition. The primitive mind can be best known from that of a child. We hear the child speaking of inanimate things as if they are living things. Likewise for the primitive person all things were and still are, on the same level as man. only differing in form. As beasts and birds are at par with human beings, the primitive man could think of assuming their form or of men as springing from them. This belief gave rise to animism, totemism, and the various tales of the category of fables and parables. Myths were thus considered by this school as containing the wisdom of primitive men.
Associated with the names of Freud and lung is a Psychological school of interpreting myths. Basing his work on Freud, Jung put forward the theory of archetypes. According to him the myths are the projection of the archetypes which lie buried deeply in the 'Collective unconsiousness' of the human mind.
We may now came to a generally known classification of legends. The legends are divided into three classes, myth, saga, and maerchen,
Coming first to myth proper it may be said that a myth explains the origin of certain phenomenon. Thus the myths tell about the creation of the world, of the man, of animals; they explain why or how a certain natural event takes place, why a certain species of animals has its own characteristics; why a particular ritual began and why it continues, etc.? They often embody "the science of a pre-scientific age. For example the cause of rain by a scientist will be connected with certain atmospheric conditions and he will also be able to furnish physical proof for that. The myth maker on the other hand will explain that it rains because certain deity pours down water out of heaven. This answer has a reason and will definitely satisfy to curious children and those simple beings whose minds are not developed enough to enquire whether it is the real reason. It is notable that not all origin stories are myths, A myth must have a religious background, i. e. its principal actors must be gods or demigods.
Myths and their motifs invariably constitute the leaven of the weltanchauung of a culture and permeate its fabric and identity in the way matter and form inform the world of reality. But like matter again myths, in their own world, cannot be related to time and space. Ipso facto ahistorical they impart meaning to the intractable mass of unaccounted and unaccountable past by selection, by focusing a few bits of the past which thereby acquired relevance and universal significance" (Munz, P., "History and Myth", Philosophical Quarterly, VI, pp. 1-6). A historical study of something ahistorical in nature is, indeed, a contradiction in terms and yet history can hardly be meaningful outside the context of what is not patently historical. History emerges also from the interaction between the historical and the ahistorical. That is why myths transcend the fourwalls of history and yet are essential to any understanding of the same.
The appropriate methodology of the study of this enigmatic subject especially in the domain of history is undoubtedly a difficult question which the author of the present book has solved by making some select motifs the backbone of his discussion. Myths might have originated in a chronological sequence but the manner in which they have been recorded all over the world hardly admits of temporal classification. Similarly, their defusive character makes them overflow the confines of space. Mythography is therefore not the same as historiography, nor can there be a historicgraphy of myths. They ran only be studied in terms of their themes and forms, i, e. motifs. Structural and other approaches to myths have their relevance in the context to the nature of analysis aimed at. As pointed out by O' Flaherty even a modified structuralist approach which she applied in her analysis of asceticism and eroticism in Saiva mythology largely symbolic in nature did not serve her purpose in her conceptual analysis of myths pertaining to the problem of evil. In utter desperation she writes, "I have therefore used any tool that would do the job-a bit of philology, a measure of theology, lashings of comparative religion, a soupcon of anthropology, even a dash of psychoanalysis—rather like a monkey piling up complex scientific gadgets into miscellanious heap in order to pluck the banana from the top cage" (The Origin of Evil in Hindu Mythology, Delhi, 1976, p. IO). 0' 'Flaherty's desperation as an analyst is, in fact, a tribute to the richness of the subject of mythology faced with which even the most sophisticated 'tools' of analysis turn out to be inadequate. Dr. Arora does not set himself such an aim and that is why he has not been driven to the wall. His motif-wise presentation of Indian myths with their Greek and other parallels rises above the mythography of Frazer concerned with identifying the universal stages of the development of the religious beliefs and practices of man without degenerating into a 'tool' of the analyst falsely arrogating to itself the honour of being all-purposeful. He attaches primacy to myths as perceived in the form of their themes, or motifs, besides hinting at trends of diffusion wherever they obtrude upon the sight of the investigator, He eludes the hybris in order to have the dikaiosune.
I am nappy to introduce this first fruit of Dr. Arora's scholarship to the world of scholars and students with the hope that it will g() a long way in enriching our notion of the ancient Indian world view with a knowledge of the areas of diffusion between our own and the Greek and other cultures. I have no doubt that Dr. Arora's enterprise is worthy of serious attention and blessings of great scholars in the field.
Your email address will not be published *
Send as free online greeting card
Email a Friend