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Are all mythologies real or are they stories or symbolic things meant to teach us something higher?

I know that we (individuals) too are not so real as far as Vedanta is concerned. All is one. But like Rama and Krishna, did the Puranic stories really happen?

Is there an Indra up there? May be he was needed to explain some concept of meta physics?

E.g., Akashat vayuhu...Vayur agni... have profound meta-physical meanings.

Probably, the Puranas were meant to store the highest knowledge in a way that even after 100,000 years, if a person questions "Who am I?", he could get its symbolic answers in Shastras.

Does Shiva really exist in the Himalayas or is he in you and me as Shivoham or both, depending on faith?

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    According to advaita, theories of creation, stories are just used to teach the unity of the Atman. These stories are allegorical.
    – user16581
    Feb 14 '19 at 11:19
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    Why is this question marked as "unclear"? Clearly he is asking if the stories are merely allegorical or whether they are actually historical.
    – Ikshvaku
    Feb 14 '19 at 12:50
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    @LazyLubber Can you support this argument with some references? Feb 14 '19 at 13:39
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    @LazyLubber Ramanujacharya in some work, I think the Vedartha Sangraha or the Sri Bhashya, says that Puranic stories can only have any useful purpose or meaning if they actually happened, because if they didn't happen, then there is no precedent or force for any of the practices or meaning.
    – Ikshvaku
    Feb 15 '19 at 18:05
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    @LazyLubber A historical event can be both real and allegorical.
    – Ikshvaku
    Feb 15 '19 at 18:06
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It is difficult to say if Hindu mythology has any history or how much is history and how much allegory. It is definite that there is a lot of allegorical component in Hindu mythology.

Brahma tells Narada "This brief account of the manifestation of the Lord is what is called the Bhagavata. The Supreme Being Himself gave the knowledge of it to me. I have also given to you a brief account of the Lord's glories and attributes. You elucidate it with the help of your imaginative power in a way that will generate devotion in the mind of men for Sri Hari who is the soul and support of all."

Srimad Bhagavata Purana II.8.51-52

The Supreme Lord is said to be fond of such figurative expositions of spiritual truth through stories. (For it is understandable even to common men while an abstract philosophical statement can be understood only by a very few.

Srimad Bhagavata Purana IV.28.65

In times past I learnt this wonderful allegory, which teaches the truth of the Atman indirectly in a story form.

Srimad Bhagavata Purana IV.29.85

I am adding this part after reading the clariification in the comment.

Archaeology suggests that there is some historical truth in the Mahabharata. Modern scholars find less certain evidence for Ramayana compared to Mahabharata. None of the major Ramayana sites have been clearly identified. That is not the case with the Mahabharata.

The Mahabharata is much more real than the Ramayana. And, therefore, much more fascinating. Every conceivable human emotion figures in it, which is the reason why it is possible to identify with it even today. The text itself states that what is not found in the Mahabharata, will not be found anywhere else. Unlike the Ramayana, India is littered with real places that have identifications with the Mahabharata.(Ayodhya or Lanka or Chitrakuta are identifications that are less certain.) Kurukshetra, Hastinapura, Indraprastha, Karnal, Mathura, Dvaraka, Gurgaon, Girivraja are real places: the list is endless. In all kinds of unlikely places, one comes across temples erected by the Pandavas when they were exiled to the forest. In some of these places, archaeological excavations have substantiated the stories.

The Mahabharata critical edition Introduction by Bibek DebRoy

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    A historical event can be both real and allegorical.
    – Ikshvaku
    Feb 15 '19 at 18:06
  • To say that there are allegories in scripture Is not an answer @Pradip Gangopadhyay . The question asks is what is narrated as history in scripture is only an allegory. for example - one could say that the Mahabharata is about an inner psychological struggle and none of it really took place in the real world. In “The Riks or Primeval Gleams of Light and Life” . Bangalore, Mysore Government Press, 1911.” T Paramasiva Iyer thinks the Rig Vedic Vishnu actually stands for basaltic lava.
    – S K
    Feb 15 '19 at 18:20
  • Are they as real (or unreal) as you and me is what is the question. Feb 20 '19 at 9:45
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The truth or otherwise of Hinduism can be examined at three levels

(1) Literal truth

(2) Mythic truth

(3) The Numinous truth

(1) Some Hindus claim everything in scripture is literally true. In particular they claim the weapons and technologies described in the Itihasas were literally present and used the way it is described. This would be very difficult to reconcile with actual recorded history (India's vulnerability to foreign invasions that could have been stopped if Hindus had flying machines and celestial weapons that were invoked only with the power of the mind)

Similarly they claim all the Gods exist literally and all their histories recorded in scripture including sthala Puranas really happened. This once again boils down to faith - it cannot stand the test of science both for the lack of evidence and the fact that the same event is described differently in different scriptures ("Kalpa Bheda" introduces another unverifiable reality).

If the claim that Brahmastra is real is borne out, that would be a literal truth of Hinduism:

https://www.booksfact.com/mantra-sastra/brahmastra-nuclear-weapon-energized-gayatri-mantra.html

Brahmastra is released by Gayatri Mantra but in a different way. Any weapon or even a grass straw can be energized by concentrating and spelling Gayatri Mantra in exact reverse sequence of its syllables. This method of chanting a mantra is known as viloma (normal way is anuloma). Combined effect of anuloma-viloma chanting multiplies the power of that mantra and sadhaka attains siddhi quicker than normal.

(2) Mythic truth

This is each person's truth, as Devdutt Pattanaik says. Popular images, like Hanuman splitting his chest open to reveal Rama and Sita evoke powerful responses in Hindus, believers or not. Enactments of myths like Ram Lila or Shura-samhara act as a deep bond bringing Hindus together evoking shared images in their hearts and minds. The scientific test of truth does not apply to mythic truth. The ecstasy of Bhakti to your favorite deity falls under this truth.

Here is Pattanaik himself on Mythic truth:

http://devdutt.com/articles/myth-theory/a-mythic-inheritance.html

For a mythologist, like me, all beliefs are mythological as they are indifferent to rational thought. Hence they make room for fantastic ideas like the ocean of milk, flying horses, and virgin births. Mythology must be distinguished from myth. Myth is subjective truth that defines a culture. Mythology is the body of stories, symbols and rituals that communicates that subjective truth. Different cultures have different subjective truths, hence different beliefs, different myths. For example, Christianity and Islam believe in one life followed by an eternity in Heaven or Hell. Hindus and Jains and Sikhs and Buddhists believe in rebirth, one life followed by another, until one breaks free from the wheel of birth and death. Who is right? Believers think they are right; outsiders do not agree. To each his own. Unlike science, where the pursuit is for universal, de-contextual, objective knowledge that everyone has to agree with. Unless one appreciates what myth is, one will always be trapped in arguments on what is true and what is not, a path that ultimately leads to fundamentalist madness and even, unfortunately, violence.

(3) The Numinous truth

This cannot be put into words and can only be experienced. Whoever was fortunate enough to be around Ramakrishna Paramahamsa or Ramana Maharishi, for example, would have felt the power of their realization directly. The numinous is ultimately the basis of all the other truths - but they act as pointers to the numinous and therefore they are all true in that sense.

The Numinous can stand the test of science - but those who don't feel it can dismiss it as confirmation bias - "the tendency to interpret new evidence as confirmation of one's existing beliefs or theories."

For example, Vivekananda experienced the transcendental with Ramakrishna, but also initially tried to rationalize it:

https://wikivisually.com/wiki/Relationship_between_Ramakrishna_and_Swami_Vivekananda

The first meeting with Ramakrishna so much puzzled the young mind for Narendra that he was feeling anxious to meet Ramakrishna again. He finally went to meet him for the second time on a weekday.[13] During the second meeting, he had another strange experience. When he was talking to Ramakrishna, Ramakrishna suddenly placed his right foot on Narendra's chest and Narendra started feeling unconscious, he felt as if everything around him, the rooms, the walls, the temple garden were vanishing away. Narendra got scared and cried out "What are you doing to me? I have my parents, brothers, and sisters at home." Ramakrishna laughed and moved his foot from his body. He restored his consciousness and said "All right, everything will happen in due time."[24]

Narendra became even more puzzled and felt that Ramakrishna had hypnotized him.

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    Devdutt Pattnaik can not be an authority here.But i am not downvoting.Omkarnathji mentioned : Laukiki bhasha, Kavya bhasha and samadhi bhasha.Almost same are the concepts.
    – user17294
    Feb 15 '19 at 14:36
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    Feel free to write your own answer - lets make hay while the sun shines. It is astounding that this question is still there - instead of debating what Arjuna's shankh was called, we can debate weighty issues @Partha
    – S K
    Feb 15 '19 at 14:43
  • Thanks.The spirit of your answet is absolutely correct to me.So its a very great answer.No need of a separate one:D
    – user17294
    Feb 15 '19 at 14:46
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+50

I am giving here the opinion of Sri Chandrasekharendra Saraswathi MahaSwamiji on the topic. Quoting from the book "Hindu Dharma", which is composed of various speeches given by him.


Our nation, it is often alleged, does not have a sense of history. In my opinion the Puranas are history. But to our educated people today history means the history of the past two thousand years since the birth of Christ. They do not believe that the events of earlier eras, including those mentioned in the Puranas, are history. Some of them admit, though, that there is an element of truth in Puranic stories as shown by recent researches. But these relate to theories like the division of the Indian people into races like Aryans and Dravidians, theories they fancy are supported by the Puranas. The rest, like the miracles or accounts of supernatural occurrences, they dismiss as fables or as a tissue of lies. Since they are unable to comprehend matters that are beyond our senses they treat the Puranas as mystery.

Now children have no choice but to read the textbooks of history written by such people. But I believe that it is not a good to keep children ignorant of the Puranas. It is not my purpose to say that you should not read history, but I should like to mention that the puranas are also history and that our youngsters have a great deal to learn from them, a great deal that will help in moulding their conduct and character. No such purpose is served by the history taught in schools.

One reason why they say history must be read is their belief that "history repeats itself". The idea is that the lessons of the past would be helpful to us in the future. We learn from history about the circumstances that usually lead to war and about how great civilizations rise and fall. We can be on guard against a repetition of these circumstances and this, we are told, is one of the "uses" of history.

The same events are repeated kalpa after kalpa. According to our sastras, the Ramayana, the Mahabharata, the Bhagavata, the Dasavatara (the story of the ten incarnations of Visnu) and the Puranas are re-enacted kalpa after kalpa. Here too we see history repeating itself.

.....................

We are witness in our own times to governments losing their support because of charges of bribery and corruption made against them and other malpractices ascribed to them including partisanship and nepotism. When one such government falls, another group forms a new government and they too lose the support of the people in the subsequent elections for the same reasons. Here is an example of our failure to learn any lesson form history.

History must be taught along with lessons in dharma; then alone will it serve the purpose of bringing people to the right path. The Puranas do precisely this.

History contains no more than accounts of monarchs and other rules in chronological order. It does not give importance to their moral character : whether wicked rulers suffered an ill fate or whether just and righteous rulers earned a high place. According to the law of Karma, Isvara determines the fate of people on the basis of their actions, meritorious and sinful. Such justice is not necessarily meted out during the lifetime of a person. The fruits of a man's action are reaped in subsequent births. It is not the task of history to deal with such questions, nor do historians have the capacity to inquire into such matters. Whether a wicked ruler like Hitler was consigned to hell on his death and whether he had a lowly rebirth is a subject for the Puranas. Those who composed these texts had the reqisite insight to deal with such questiions; indeed the very purpose of these stories is this, to impart moral lessons. From history we do not derive any edification.

The Puranas are also, as I said before, history. Besides, they contain lessons in papa and punya (demerit and merit). In fact, their choice of stories and narration are such as to bring people closer to the path of dharma. Again, the Puranas contain accounts of individuals who by virtue of their steadfast adherence to dharma attained to an elevated state in this birth itself. At the same time, they also tell is about persons who, by their acts of adharma, came to harm in this very birth itself. There are in fact no Puranic stories that do not contain some moral lesson or other.

"The experience of the past narrated in history are a pointer of future events. The stories of good men who performed virtuous deeds and benefited from them should be a source of inspiration for us. In the same way, the stories of wicked men who brought evil to the world and themselves suffered on account of their acts contain a warning for us". Is the stufy of history really usefull in this way? It is not. To improve ourselves morally and spiritually we must turn to the Puranas.

The purpose of the Puranas is not to give [as history does] a chronological account of kings or their quarrels without imparting lessons on good and evil. We do not need such history since it does not contain any guide for the condcut of our life. History must be capable of bringing us Atmic rewards.

The Puranas too deal with the lineages of various ruling houses. They give accounts of dynasties descended from the moon and the sun (candravamsa and suryavamsa) and contain list of successive rulers of varous kingdoms. But in most cases only the names of rulers are mentioned or only brief references made to them. Detailed accounts are given only of rulers whose lives have a lesson for us. For instance, the Bhagavata tells the story of Uttanapada, the father of Dhruva, and of Dhruva's son, but only very briefly. However, the story of Dhruva himself is told in detail, Dhruva who is an example for all of us in devotion, determination and courage.

.......

It is not right to view history merely as an account of the rise and fall of empires or of wars, invasions, dynasties amd so on. Each and every subject has a history of its own. But we find that political history is given a dominant place. The emphasis in the Puranas is on dharma and, incidently, they also deal, in a subsidiary manner, with the ruling dynasties, with holy men as well as with ordinary folk. They contain details also of cultural life, the arts and the sciences. The thrust of the Puranas, however, is dharmic and Atmic.


So, the opinions of Swamiji about the stories in the Puranas and Itihasas can be briefly summarised as follows:

  • Puranas are history and they are not depicting fictions or events that never actually happened. Puranas are comprised of historical events that occurred in some ancient pasts.

  • Although Puranas are history, they don't retell all of the history of a particular time period. Instead they selectively retell only those events from which some lessons can be learnt with regards to spirituality and Dharma.

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    Thanks for the answer Mar 23 at 6:48

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