Hindu mythology is a large body of traditional narratives related to Hinduism as contained in Sanskrit literature (such as the epics like Mahabharata and Ramayana, the Puranas, and the Vedas), Ancient Tamil literature (such as the Sangam literature and Periya Puranam), several other works, most notably the Bhagavata Purana, claiming the status of a Fifth Veda and other religious regional literature of South Asia. As such, it is a subset of Indian and Nepali culture. Rather than one consistent, monolithic structure, it is a range of diverse traditions, developed by different sects, people and philosophical schools, in different regions and at different times, which are not necessarily held by all Hindus to be literal accounts of historical events, but are taken to have deeper, often symbolic, meaning, and which have been given a complex range of interpretations. (Wikipedia)
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Indian sculpture is always religious sculpture, and the sculptures we find
in stone were always parts of temples or other religious monuments to which
they belonged both aesthetically and functionally. The temple is the complete
work of art. It is both the house and the image of God, and thus the image of
the universe. If we substitute “Buddha” for “God,” the same goes for the
Buddhist stupa. In our museum galleries we see these sculptures out of the context essential to the Indian artist and the Indian beholder.
God, although ever present in His creation, is beyond the grasp of our minds and senses. Only limited aspects of the Divine Being can be defined by human thought. These are made visible in art as utensils of worship in order to hold and direct the mind of the believer and to evoke the presence of God. In Hinduism, the innumerable aspects and manifestations of God are grouped around Siva, Vishnu (as well as, to a lesser degree, Brahma) and the Goddess.
Historically, the intricate and complicated theological edifice of Hinduism is the result of a long process. The cult of yakshas and yakshis (tree-gods and goddesses) or nagas and naginis (serpent deities of lakes and rivers) is probably as old as human civilization in south and southeast Asia. Certain trees and snakes are sacred even today, at least among the village folk. The prototypes of Siva and the Goddess, both fertility deities, were venerated as far back as the Indus valley civilization which flourished between 3000 and 1500 B.C.
The early gods of the Aryans, like those of the Greeks, were chiefly connected with the sky and were predominantly male. Indra, both war-god and bringer of rain, wielded the thunderbolt (vajra). Several gods were associated with the sun, the most prominent being Surya, who rode across the sky in a flaming chariot. Agni was the fire-god, Vayu the wind-god, Tvashtri the Vedic Vulcan and Yama the lord of the dead. Rudra, associated with the storm, was an archer-god whose arrows brought disease. Varuna was the mighty king of the universe and guardian of the cosmic order. There were many other gods, and demi-gods like the gandharvas (divine musicians) and the lovely apsarases (nymphs).
The center of the Aryan cult was sacrifice. During the late Vedic period (ca. 900-600 B.C.), the sacrifice had become the supernal mystery and the priests who performed it (the brahmans) were, in theory, more powerful than kings and gods. In a slow but irreversible Gotterdammerung, many of the old Aryan gods lost their greatness or their function and identity. Others rose in popularity, notably Vishnu and Rudra-Siva.
In the process of their expansion across the north of India, along the Ganges valley, and their later infiltration of the south, the Aryans absorbed new ideas into their culture. The doctrine of transmigration (samsara) was developed, and that of karma, in which the deeds of one life determine the next. Asceticism, and mysticism as well, developed from ancient non- Aryan, Bravidian traditions. The materialistic-ascetic trend which in Hindu philosophy was to find its expression especially in the Sankhya and Yoga systems, gave rise to independent sects and religions, such as Jainism and Buddhism.
There was also a political element in this development. Both Mahavira (the founder of Jainism) and the Buddha belonged to the kshatriya or warrior caste which opposed the claim of the brahmans (priests) to absolute power. This is reminiscent of the manner in which the Reformation in Europe was carried by a revolt of the princes against the secular power of the church.
Buddhism was founded by the Sakya prince Siddharta (ca. 563-483 B.C.), called Gautama (his clan name) orSakyamuni (“the silent sage of theSakyas”). During the reign of Asoka (third century B.C.), it became the leading religion in India (see below).
At the time of the Upanishads and of the development of Jainism and Buddhism, orthodox thought was dominated by a theistic, gnostic trend. Brahman, the world spirit or cosmic essence, was identified with atman, the self or human soul.
During the last centuries before the beginning of our era, a new personal and devotional approach to God (bhakti), which originated in the Vasudeva cult, permeated all Indian religious thought. Buddhism, in the following centuries, added the Zoroastrian-Christian concept of the suffering saviour, which led to the development of the bodhisattva cult and the Mahay ana (Great Vehicle) system.
The final form of Hinduism was largely the result of influences from the Dravidian south. A new wave of ecstatic devotional Hinduism was propagated by many wandering preachers and hymn-singers in the early medieval period. This, with the destruction of Buddhist monasteries and universities by the Musims, led finally to the disappearance of Buddhism. Its vestiges were absorbed into Hinduism; the Buddha became the ninth avatar (incarnation) of Vishnu who was thought to have assumed this form in order to delude the asuras (titans).