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Shatanu meets the Goddess Ganga, by Warwick Goble (Public Domain Image)

Indian Myth and Legend

by Donald A. Mackenzie


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This is the Gresham Myths and Legends volume for India. Of course, one person's myth is another's religion, in this case nearly a billion people. As opposed to most of the other volumes in this series (e.g. Egypt, Crete, Celtic), these 'Myths and Legends' are the basis for contemporary Hindu beliefs. Certainly, many Jews and Christians would take offense if the events of the Pentateuch were described as 'myths', and I beg the kind indulgence of Hindu readers of this etext.

Like most of the other books at this site, this was written prior to World War I. Mackenzie's discussion of the 'Aryan race' and Indian parallels to Germanic mythology have to be taken in that context. This shouldn't be taken as an endorsement of racist doctrine. Nobody has seriously questioned the reality of Indo-European as a linguistic group, or the aspects of comparative mythology which crop up from India to Iceland. However, the misuse and misrepresentation of these theories led to tragic consequences (unintended by the 19th century scholars who first proposed them), and that has to be kept in mind.

These big caveats aside, this is an enjoyable journey through deep horizons of Hindu mythology, from the earliest nomadic period, through the Vedic and Brahmanic eras, concluding with an extended synopsis of the Mahabharata and Ramayana. The Hindu gods and goddesses are difficult to sort out for beginners; there is no neatly organized family tree, as with Greek, Roman or Northern mythology. This is because the pantheon evolved radically over the millennia that Hinduism has been in practice. Also, there are many non-mutually-exclusive strands of Hindu belief, each of which has its own body of lore of the gods and goddesses. Therefore having a survey of this nature at hand while reading the primary texts is extremely useful.

One last aspect of this book deserves a mention, the transliteration of Sanskrit vowels. Sanskrit actually has a very simple vowel system; however, Mackenzie used a strange variety of acute accents, tildes, umlauts, macrons, and breves, in a very inconsistent fashion. I have scrupulously preserved the transliteration from the book throughout, per site policy. However, these accents can be ignored.

Addendum: after I posted this book, I started to get sporadic mail complaining about the the chapter heading 'Rape of Sita.' This is an archaic variant usage which means 'abduct or carry off,' not, as at present 'sexually assualt.' I am certain, because of the narrative context, that it was the former usage intended by the author.

Title Page
Plates in Colour
Plates in Monochrome
Chapter I. Indra, King of the Gods
Chapter II. The Great Vedic Deities
Chapter III. Yama, the First Man, and King of the Dead
Chapter IV. Demons and Giants and Fairies
Chapter V. Social and Religious Developments of the Vedic Age
Chapter VI. Mysteries of Creation, the World's Ages, and Soul Wandering
Chapter VII. New Faiths: Vishnu Religion, Buddhism, and Jainism
Chapter VIII. Divinities of the Epic Period
Chapter IX. Prelude to the Great Bharata War
Chapter X. Royal Rivals: the Pandavas and Kauravas
Chapter XI. The Tournament
Chapter XII. First Exile of the Pandavas
Chapter XIII. The Choice of Draupadi
Chapter XIV. Triumph of the Pandavas
Chapter XV. The Great Gambling Match
Chapter XVI. Second Exile of the Pandavas
Chapter XVII. Defiance of Duryodhana
Chapter XVIII. The Battle of Eighteen Days
Chapter XIX. Atonement and the Ascent to Heaven
Chapter XX. Nala and Damayantí
Chapter XXI. Wanderings in the Forest
Chapter XXII. Nala in Exile
Chapter XXIII. The Homecoming of the King
Chapter XXIV. Story of Rama: How Sita was Won
Chapter XXV. The Rape of Sita
Chapter XXVI. Rama's Mission Fulfilled