Hindu Mythology: Responses to the World
Hinduism is rich in mythological stories of creation, of man's relations to the gods, of the interactions and lives of the gods, and of the paths to enlightenment and to spirituality (Fisher, 1999). Often, these stories reflect a certain tension between renunciation of the material world and engagement with the world. This essay will examine this tension with specific reference to the myths associated with Visnu and Siva.
Generally, as Fisher (1999) has noted, Hinduism lacks a central tradition and is rather a composite of many overlapping and interrelated traditions, At the core of this belief system is the statement, found in the Rig Veda, that "Truth is one; sages call it by various names (Fisher, 1999, p. 79). Visnu is known as the "all-prevader," whereas Siva is known as the god of destruction and reproduction (Radhakrishnan & Moore, 1957). Together with Brahman (the "absolute") these gods form the apex of the Hindu pantheon (Eck, 1985). It is important to recognize that in stories of Siva, the procreative and destructive forces unleashed in the world due to the actions of god and man are to be found; Siva represents the tension between creation and death and, consequently, between engagement with the forward thrust of the world and withdrawal from the world (Jayakar, 1989)
Sontheimer and Kulke (1997) note that Hindu thought holds that man has an innate need to realize a higher destiny and to find meaning in his existence. Consequently, man is invariably torn between the necessities of the material world and the desire to become one with the spiritual forces or fields in the world. This creates a certain tension between two conflicting sets of aspirations, resolved on through a karmic cycle of birth, death and rebirth (Murthy, 1998). As the Bhagavad Gita demonstrates, said Murthy (1998), a routine existence, bogged down in every-dayness, rusts the mind and robs the spar...