Hindu Mythology: A Velikovskian Perspective

Hindu Mythology: A Velikovskian Perspective

Mythology may be interpreted as an embellished record of actual observations by the ancients, thus making this one of the oldest resources for researching the history of science in general, and astronomy, archeology and geology, in particular. This view has been adopted by so called catastrophists such as Velikovsky , Donald Patten, Clube and Napier, John Ackerman, Alfred de Grazia in more recent times as well as radical thinkers such as William Whiston, Johann Gottlieb Radlof, Ignatius Donnelly, Comyns Beaumont and a few others before them. An attempt to correlate the existing popular mythical beliefs prevalent among various communities with observed astronomical events, and to consider these events as inspiration behind the mythical stories may be found in the works of these authors.

The work of Velikovsky in particular, viz. Worlds in Collision, has been discussed and debated quite extensively by scientists such as Albert Einstein (an acquaintance of Velikovsky), Carl Sagan and others. Velikovsky proposed that the planet Venus was ejected as a comet from the planet Jupiter and passed close to earth on several occassions, wreaking havoc on earth on each close encounter, before encountering Mars and finally settling into its present stable orbit. Velikovsky further argued that the myth of Athena springing out of the forehead of Zeus as immortalised by Homer in his Illiad was inspired from these observations by the ancients.

Such strong was Velikovsky’s belief in mythical folklore being an honest eye-witness account of events that happened within the memory of mankind, that based on these he dared to make a number of bold predictions that were considered as nothing short of crack-pot theories by his contemporaries. Nonetheless, a number of his predictions have been validated by NASA and through other independent observations, much to the embarrassment of his critics. Some of the more famous of his predictions include emission of radio noise from Jupiter, Venus being much hotter than was assumed at the time, the abnormal rotation of Venus, Mars being moon-like, battered and geologically active and the magnetosphere of earth reaching upto the moon.

Donald Patten discusses how Mars was responsible for the breaking up of a planet that he calls Astra, situated in between Mars and Jupiter, leading to the formation of asteroid belt and disturbing the orbit of Mars to such an extent that it approached perilously close to earth at regular intervals. Patten cites numerous examples from mythology in support of his belief. Comyns Beaumont, much before Velikovsky, considered Saturn in a comet form to be responsible for the Deluge. The ideas of Velikovsky are found to be rather similar to those of Beaumont’s.

One of the more radical ideas proposed by Velikovsky and discussed quite often with Albert Einstein by him, was about the role of electromagnetism in celestial mechanics. It has been held by some that electrical and electromagnetic phenomena in the universe have actually been responsible for some of the brilliant celestial displays that could have given birth to some of the mythical stories. The idea of an electrically powered universe, wherein electrical forces of attraction and repulsion as well as electromagnetic phenomena play a major role instead of gravity, is not new and has also been discussed by Velikovsky, Ralph Juergens, John Ackerman, Alfred de Grazia, Gary Gilligan, Wallace Thornhill and others.

Velikovsky, of course, was neither the only one nor the first to propose such catastrophic ethereal encounters. An alternative catastrophic view had also been adopted by others before him. Ignatius Donnelly in his Ragnarok, had earlier proposed that the earth had a close encounter or collision with a giant comet and described how this encounter and its aftermath had been recorded in mythological stories round the world. The idea of either comets or cometary fragments or comet debris leading to meteor showers being the inspiration behind the existing myths, rather than planets like Venus or Mars, has also been expounded by William Whiston, Johann Gottlieb Radlof, Clube and Napier, Christopher Knight and Robert Lomas, Bruce Masse, Richard Firestone and others. It may be readily agreed that the idea of cometary cataclysms is much more credible than the ideas of solar system in disarray and ejection, collision, capture and insertion of new planets within the already existing ones. Duncan Steel, Clube and Napier call their theory coherent catastrophism and cite a number of astronomical observations and papers in its favour.

Velikovsky, from his study of mythological sources, also suggested that Saturn, because of its interaction with Jupiter, became a Nova and was once the most brilliantly shining object in the sky, providing illumination even at night. Velikovsky considers it possible that the Earth was, at some time, closer to or, perhaps, even a satellite of Saturn, afterwards becoming a satellite of Jupiter. This theory known also as Saturn myth has been discussed as such or in its variations by other believers of this theory like David Talbott, Dwardu Cardona, Ev Cochrane, Harold Tresman and Bernard Newgrosh and Alfred de Grazia as well as Oskar Reichenbach before them. A comparative analysis of the works of several catastrophists by Alfred De Grazia may be found here.

For the interested reader, the nature and origin of mythology has been thoroughly discussed by van der Sluijs, while the catastrophes that befell the Earth and catastrophism through the ages has been nicely reviewed by Trevor Palmer. A comprehensive bibliography of celestial catastrophism has been compiled by William I. Thompson III.

Although a number of theories and hypotheses have been based on mythological sources, mostly Biblical sources, Greek, Roman and Egyptian mythology have been exploited to a great extent. The most notable attempt to use catastrophist views in the Hindu context, to the best of this writer’s knowledge, has been the excellent work of Ravindra Godbole, wherein the legend of birth of Indra and meaning of the richas (hymns) of Rigveda, one of the oldest texts available, has been explored alongwith other ancient vedas in the light of a large comet having broken up into seven fragments above the earth’s atmosphere with a few fragments having fallen on earth in prehistoric times. The author admits to having been inspired by Uriel’s machine and by The Cosmic Serpent work.

In fact, a number of attempts have been made to interpret the verses of Rigveda, either owing to its glamorous antiquity or as Max Mueller suggests, the mythology of Krishna, Vishnu, Shiva, Kali and generally that of Puranas is indigenous to India, whereas the Vedas represent a more primitive, natural and intelligible mythology with parallels in other mythologies.

In this blog, we examine some of the well known mythological tales in Hindu puranas and try to find whether a catastrophic scenario among the many discussed above might sensibly explain the origins of the myth. Ignatius Donnelly discusses how the varaha-avatar might have origins in cometary encounters, Patrick Dasgupta shows how the tale of Nahusha kicking Agastya could be related to the tail of a comet stretching upto Canopus or star Agastya and Ravindra Godbole speculates upon the tale of Skanda being inspired from the supposed observation and ancient stone carving record of a supernova. John Ackerman (Angiras) discusses Hindu mythology more elaborately although he assigns Brahma, Vishnu and Mahesh, as well as Indra to Mars, while Mitra-Varuna, Aditya, Agni etc. are assigned to proto-Venus of the catastrophic era. R.N.Iyengar convincingly associates the celestial body Ketu with Dhumaketu or comet, shows that the Matsyavatar (first avatar of Vishnu) was a comet that foreboded the Deluge and goes on to date the deluge.

It should be clear by now that although the title mentions a Velikovskian perspective, the term has been used here more as an adjective meaning catastrophic. After all, Dr.Velikovsky has been responsible for a number of theories discussed above and remains, perhaps, the most well known and perhaps the most debated among all catastrophists.

With this view, we try to show here how (at least) some of the myths in Hindu mythology could have had their inspiration in celestial phenomena and could thus be viewed as an ancient history of astronomical science. For some of the myths, although their interpretation as given here fits very nicely with the facts known today, one cannot help but wonder, how in the world, the ancients could have known or even guessed that? The myths related to genesis, for example, are a case in point. Even assuming the scenario to be true, you may ask, who was present at the time to witness the destruction and creation of the world (or universe)? Or were these simply the logical inferences arrived at by intelligent, thinking men, not much unlike the present day scientists. In that case, on what observed or calculated data did they base their theories? As a consequence of this solo brain-storming, dear reader, you might then proceed to argue equally well in favour of either existence of God, or of extra-terrestrials or in favour of simple, plain deductive reasoning. Take your pick, gentle reader, for your guess is as good as mine!

It should be pointed out here that some of the modern theories (e.g. Jumping Jupiter, Panspermia, some of the theories for evolution, stability and fate of the Solar system ) and nice models (no pun intended), put forward during recent years using the most sophisticated instruments for observations and supercomputers for simulation are no less bizarre than the mythological stories that were perhaps concocted from ancient observations. In fact, the myths sometimes seem to agree with the most recently uncovered facts to such a degree (as we shall see in this blog) as to make one wonder whether the ancient observations were indeed naked eye observations or whether the ancients had rigged up some more sophisticated instruments or whether the earth was indeed nearer to outer planets as speculated by some Saturnians. Of course, the idea of the blog is not to show that the recently discovered facts match those suggested by the myths, but rather to put oneself in the shoes of those ancient composers of myths and examine whether the myths could be based on the assumed (on our part) level of contemporary understanding of science, as it must have been known then, and to marvel and wonder whether our assumption regarding the development of science in ancient times is at all adequate, whenever a new fact comes to light that corroborates the mythical details. Further, the frequency with which new theories are being put forth (and trashed) is an indication that scientists are to this date, merely trying to understand the evolution of Solar system (and Universe) and are still far from having done so. Thus, the ancient myths could be forgiven if these erred in a detail or two as long as the approach behind these myths was scientific, howsoever paradoxical that may sound.

We postulate, and not for the first time either, that the various gods encountered in Hindu mythology could have been inspired from the various planets visible in the sky. However, taking a slightly different approach, we further postulate that the various sages and composers of mythological works knew about this correlation and consequently, as far as possible, we try to identify a particular deity with a particular planet in a consistent manner, instead of being totally arbitrary about it. As a logical extension, we also propose that the wives of gods or their sons or army could be various satellites revolving around the planet. The emphasis here is, of course, on ‘as far as possible’, for we have to discount for the possibility of this correlation having, knowingly or unknowingly, got corrupted over the ages, either due to vagaries of time or an attempt to intentionally prove one’s favourite God superior to all others. The fierce rivalry between the Vaishnavites and the Shaiviites in this context is well known. To add further to the confusion, it is also just possible that composers in distant lands, mutually unaware of the popular theme in the other place, could have associated a planet or a phenomenon with totally different deities right from the beginning. All these, in fact, discourage us from labeling this humble effort as , say, something like ‘consistent catastrophism’ or ‘common-sensical catastrophism’ or similar. We shall endeavour to bring out the various possibilities as we go along and discuss a particular tale.

We also appreciate that these metaphorical tales of heavenly happenings could have then been integrated seamlessly to merge within the existing socio-political fabric of the state the particular composer of the myth resided in. As Ignatius Donnelly points out in Ragnarok, But above all, it must be remembered that we can not depend upon either the geography or the chronology of a myth. As I have shown, there is a universal tendency to give the old story a new habitat, and hence we have Ararats and Olympuses all over the world. In the same way the myth is always brought down and attached to more recent events.” Velikovsky gives an example of how the myth of Kartikeya could have originated and also how the name of the contemporary ruler Taharka could have been woven within the myth as demon Tarakasur by the sages.

This shows how the ancient Rishis or scholars, who were also romantics and of literary inclination at heart, immortalised their observations through epics inspired from celestial observations and the socio-political events taking place around them, by lending a concrete or more identifiable human form to some of the abstract scientific concepts known to them.

Having reached this crucial stage of understanding, and one that is marginally short of enlightenment, the similarities between the catastrophist theories being propounded worldwide and the mythological tales in ancient Hindu literature become apparent with alarming alacrity. This impulse to explain away every myth, whether in a natural way or contrived, has well been recognised from the time of Socrates, who warns in Plato’s Phaedrus that as these things require an abundance of leisure, the same are best left to the pursuits of idle minds. As we do not profess to be as busy as Socrates pondering over queries of a more profound nature, such as “Who am I?”, we may as well be condoned for indulging in our little preoccupation that is at once as instructive as it is interesting. As Dwardu Cordona aptly observes, “After reading Velikovsky I should not have been surprised at the sheer amount of mythological tales which hinted at, referred to, and sometimes explicitly described catastrophic events.”

Some of these tales and the corresponding catastrophic events that are supposed to have been referred to therein are discussed in this blog. The contents of this blog will be updated as and when the perception of science and that of the writer improves. This blog is dedicated to my parents and maternal uncle mama who recounted countless delightful tales at my behest in my childhood and to my daughter who made me repeat every single one of those.

Finally, borrowing from Ignatius Donnelly in Ragnarok, If I do not convince, I hope at least to interest you.”

References

  1. Immanuel Velikovsky, Worlds in Collision, (1950) by Doubleday & Company, Inc., Garden City, New York

  2. Alfred de Grazia, (editor) The Velikovsky Affair, Scientism versus Science, ed. 1966

  3. Ignatius Donnelly, Ragnarok: The Age of Fire and Gravel, D. Appleton & Company, 1883

  4. Myth and Geology, L. Piccardi and W. B. Masse (Editors) (Geological Society, London, UK.)

  5. Firestone, Richard B, Allen West, and Simon Warwick-Smith (2006) The Cycle of Cosmic Catastrophes: How a Stone-Age Comet Changed the Course of World Culture, Bear & Company, Rochester, VT,

  6. Victor Clube and Bill Napier, The Cosmic Serpent, Publ. 1982 Faber and Faber.

  7. Christopher Knight and Robert Lomas, Uriel’s Machine,Arrow Books, London, 1999

  8. Alfred de Grazia, Chaos and Creation, An Introduction to Quantavolution in human and natural history, Metron Publications.

  9. Marinus Anthony van der Sluijs, Mythopedia: Introducing Plasma Mythology, http://mythopedia.info/

  10. Trevor Palmer, Perilous Planet Earth: Catastrophes and Catastrophism through the Ages, Cambridge University Press), 2003

  11. Thompson, William I. III “Celestial Catastrophism Bibliography & Handbook,” http://cosmictusk.com/a-comprehensive-modern-catastrophist-bibliography/

  12. Ravindra Godbole, Indracha Janma, (The Birth of Indra) ,2007, Deshmukh and Co. Publishers Pvt. Ltd. (available online), as also Vedancha to Artha (meaning of Vedas) (available online)

  13. Hrishikesh Joglekar, Kavita Gangal, M N Vahia, Aniket Sule, Oldest sky-chart with Supernova record,” Puratatva Journal of Indian Archaeological Society 2006

  14. F.Max Mueller, “Selected essays on Language, Mythology and Religion,” Vol.I., Longmans, Green and Co., London, 1881. (available online)

  15. Prof. R. N. Iyengar, “Comets and the First Flood as per Parashara: CAN THE FLOOD BE DATED?” J.GEOLOGICAL SOCIETY OF INDIA, V.67, MARCH 2006 (available online)

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