Friday, 3 May 2013

Roman Gods, Indian Gods


The God Indra (Jupiter) armed with a vajra (thunderbolt),
as depicted on a popular Indian comic. From hoopos.com
I recently spent time trying to discover how the interpretatio Romana could be applied to the Indian pantheon. I discovered that it is not easily applied and that Indian polytheism is almost unbelievably complex. The first thing to know is that Hinduism is the sum total of numerous polytheistic belief systems emanating from the huge geographic region that is south Asia and linked by “various common elements such as Vedic tradition, the caste system, religious and moral law, epics and myths, and reverence for spiritual teachers” (Dallapiccola, Hindu: Visions of the Sacred). The second thing to know is that polytheism as experienced and understood by Hindus today is not the same as south Asian polytheism in ancient times. These days it appears that the majority of Hindus believe that most, if not all, Gods and Goddesses are manifestations of other more major Gods and many Hindus believe all deities are aspects of Brahman (or Shiva or Vishnu) – the ultimate reality and deity, which is a concept not dissimilar to Neoplatonic ideas about “the One”. The major Gods of Hinduism today are Brahma, the creator; Vishnu, the preserver and Shiva/Siva, the destroyer, as well as Devi/Shakti, the great Goddess – these Gods do not really have direct parallels in the Roman (or Greek) pantheon, which is not to say that the Indian equivalent to Roman Gods cannot be discovered but it makes the process difficult and uncertain. The Vedic pantheon of ancient India certainly seems more recognisable to one who is familiar with Roman Gods (and Vedic Brahmin priests appear to have been even more obsessed with the correct practice of ritual than the patrician priests of ancient Rome) but many Vedic Gods are no longer widely revered or they have been subsumed into other, more accessible, deities such as Vishnu or Shiva (Vedic Gods may be considered less accessible because traditionally only Brahmin priests can perform sacrifices to Vedic Gods).

To make things even more complicated, not all Hindus agree on whether God A is a manifestation of God X, Y or Z – given that there are more than a billion adherents of Hinduism worldwide, and there are many different cults/schools within Hinduism, this is perhaps not surprising – in Roman times a similar confusion occurred, particularly during the imperial era. One example of this is in Apuleius’ The Golden Ass, wherein Minerva, Venus, Diana, Proserpina, Ceres, Juno, Bellona and Hecate are described as being manifestations of the Goddess Isis – a belief that many of Apuleius’ contemporaries would have refuted. 

It seems to me that the most obvious God equations are (possibly) as follows:
  • Apollo = Vishnu, also Surya (sun God), who is an aspect of Vishnu
  • Juno = Lakshmi
  • Jupiter = Indra
  • Mars = Kartikeya (also known as Murugan)
  • Pluto = Yama
  • Vulcan + Vesta = Agni
What then of other famous Hindu Gods you may have heard of such as Rama and Krishna? It appears to be widely accepted that both are incarnations of Vishnu, as is the Buddha, as understood within the context of Hinduism (Buddhists do not generally accept this approach).

Greco-Roman God
Possible Equivalent Indian God
Asclepius / Aesculapius
Dhanwantari – physician of the Gods, bringer of medical science to the world, especially Ayurvedic medicine
Aphrodite / Venus
Parvati – Shiva’s consort, Goddess of love, she is an aspect of Shakti/Devi (as understood within Shaivism), who is a mother Goddess, represented by the yoni (a sort of divine vagina) the source of all, the universal principle of energy, power or creativity, the embodiment of female energy; Durga (a lion riding mother Goddess – perhaps like Cybele) is an aspect of Parvati and Kali is an aspect of Durga. Shakti/Devi, Parvati, Durga and Kali are all major Goddesses in India. See also Rati (Goddess of sexual pleasure), who is closely connected to Parvati in certain myths
Apollo
Phoebus/Sol = Vedic God Surya, who was a major Vedic deity and is still widely honoured today – God of the sun; he is considered to be an incarnation of Vishnu – God of preservation, order, harmony, justice and truth. Rama and Krishna are amongst the most popular avatars of Vishnu. Vishnu is one of the most important Gods in contemporary Hinduism.
See also the Vedic God Mitra – a solar God of friendship, integrity and harmony said to be brother to Varuna
Ares / Mars
Kartikeya (also called Murugan) – war God associated with the destruction of demons, who represent spiritual defilements. Son of Shiva/Siva – God of destruction, change and regeneration; Shiva is represented by the lingam (divine phallus) which symbolises creative male energy. Kartikeya is amongst the major Gods in contemporary India
Artemis / Diana
Ratri, Vedic Goddess of the night who gives light in the darkness and protects from the dangers of the night – she is the sister of Ushas. See also Vedic Goddess Aranyani – Goddess of forests and animals that dwell within them. See also the important lunar deity Chandra, who is amongst the major Gods in contemporary India. Note that some Hindus “invoke the Goddess mother in Chandra”, thus the God has a feminine aspect (as do a number of Gods in Hinduism)
Athena / Minerva
Saraswati – Goddess of knowledge, learning, wisdom and the arts, she was born of Brahma and is his consort. Saraswati is amongst the major Goddesses in India. However, a number of contemporary polytheists state that Minerva and Durga are the same Goddess – possibly because of Durga's martial aspects.
Cronus / Saturn &
Cybele / Magna Mater / Ops / Lua
(father and mother of the Gods)
Brahma, father of the Gods & Vedic Goddess Aditi, mother roof the Gods, or Prithvi (mother Goddess)? Now Shakti/Devi?
Demeter / Ceres
Sita – Goddess of spring, agriculture and the earth
Dionysius / Bacchus
Vedic deity Soma – a hallucinogenic drink from Vedic times. “Soma, according to the Vedic hymns, is the god who 'represents and animates the juice of the Soma plant.' [Wilkins, Hindu Mythology]”
Eos / Aurora
Vedic Goddess Ushas – one of the most important Vedic Goddesses, is a “representative of the Dawn … described as the daughter of the Sky … She dispels the darkness, disclosing the treasures it concealed. She illuminates the world, revealing its most distant extremities. She is the life and health of all things, causing the birds to fly from their nests, and ... awaking all her creatures, sends them forth to the pursuit of their varied occupations. She does good service to the gods, by causing the worshippers to awake, and the sacrificial fires to be lighted. She is asked to arouse only the devout and liberal, while she allows the niggardly to sleep on [Wilkins, Hindu Mythology]”
Eros / Cupid
Kamadeva (also known as Manmatha) – archer God of desire, especially sexual desire and passion
God (creator God or the ultimate God of monist philosophies)
Brahma – the creator. One of the holy trinity of Gods in Hinduism, which also includes Vishnu the preserver (Vishnu appears to be similar to Apollo) and Shiva the destroyer. As the father of the Gods Brahma might also be likened to Saturn. See also Brahman which is not really a God so much as the great cosmic spirit which is the ultimate reality – somewhat similar to the God of Neoplatonism
Hades / Dis Pater / Pluto
Vedic God Yama – God of death and the spirits of the departed. He was a major Vedic deity. He is considered to be an aspect of Shiva
Hekate / Trivia
Dhumavati – crone Goddess associated with dark forces, black magic and the night
Hephaestus / Vulcan
Vedic God Agni – God of fire (sacrificial fire and destructive fire). One of the most important of the Vedic Gods and still amongst the major Gods in India. See the entry for Hestia/Vesta for more
Hera / Juno
Lakshmi – Goddess of families and abundance and prosperity (both material and spiritual), consort of Vishnu. Lakshmi is amongst the major Goddesses in India
Heracles / Hercules
Hanuman – monkey God known for his strength and courage. Hanuman is amongst the major Gods in India
Hermes / Mercury

Major Vedic God Pusan/Pushan – “the guide of travellers, and the protector of cattle. He is called upon to protect his servants in battle, and to defend them as of old … He is said also to conduct the spirits of the departed from this world to the next … By far the greater number of prayers addressed to him seem to regard him as the guide and protector of travellers, both along the ordinary journeys of life and in the longer journey to the other world; and as he is supposed to be constantly travelling about, he is said to know the road by which they have to go [Wilkins, Hindu Mythology].” Hymn CXXXVIII of the Rig Veda says of him: “we come to thee with prayers for wealth”. He is not widely revered by present day Hindus (Lakshmi is now more usually appealed to for wealth). One of the most ancient names of Shiva is Pashupati, meaning “Lord of cattle” – this link suggests the possibility that Pushan was an early form of Shiva? Or at least suggests he is now considered an aspect of Shiva. Note that Shiva is not included amongst the Vedic Gods. Alternately Ganesha may be Mercury (Hermes) by another name, for he is associated with prosperity, literacy, knowledge and wisdom.
Hestia / Vesta
Vedic God Agni (or feminine aspect of Agni?) – God of fire (sacrificial and otherwise). Agni “is one of the most prominent of the deities of the Vedas … He is the domestic priest who rises before the dawn, and who concentrates in his own person and exercises in a higher sense all the various sacrificial offices … He is the lord of the house, dwelling in every abode. He is a guest in every home; he despises no man, he lives in every family. He is therefore considered as a mediator between gods and men, and as a witness of their actions; hence to the present day he is worshipped, and his blessing sought on all solemn occasions, as at marriage, death, etc [Wilkins, Hindu Mythology]” 
Janus
Ganesha/Ganesh, also known as Ganapati – the first God invoked in contemporary Hindu worship, he is known as the remover of obstacles and the God of beginnings; regarded as a son of Shiva and Parvati. Ganesha is a major God of contemporary India who is also associated with prosperity, learning and wisdom, as such I have seen him compared to Mercury (Hermes), which also seems logical.  
Poseidon / Neptune
Vedic God Varuna – God of rivers and the ocean, as well as clouds and water in general. Can ward off any bad effects related to water. A major Vedic deity and still amongst the most important Gods within contemporary Hinduism
Zeus / Jupiter
Vedic God Indra – “in whose hands are the thunder and the lightning; at whose command the refreshing showers fall to render the earth fruitful [Wilkins, Hindu Mythology].” A major Vedic deity, if not the most important Vedic deity. Interestingly, one of the major schools in Buddhism, the Vajrayana school, literally means “Indra’s thunderbolt vehicle [to enlightenment]” – with a vajra being the divine thunderbolt of Indra. Indra is still amongst the major Gods in India; he is considered to be alternately an aspect of either Shiva or Brahma

The Rig Veda – ancient Indo-European hymns to the Gods
There are some very inspiring hymns to Vedic Gods in the Rig Veda (sacred books of Vedic religion  and still sacred to Hindus; the Rig Veda is kind of like the book of Genesis to Christians  composed circa 1400 BCE). If you are interested in having a look at these I suggest going to hinduwebsite.com and/or sacred-texts.com. A Rig Veda hymn that particularly impressed me is from the Rig Veda, Book 1, Hymn XLII (Regarding Pusan/Pushan – who appears to be the God Mercury, or at least a God like Mercury):
Shorten our ways, O Pūan, move aside obstruction in the path:
 go close before us, cloud-born God.
 Drive, Pūan, from our road the wolf, the wicked inauspicious wolf,
 who lies in wait to injure us.
 Who lurks about the path we take, the robber with a guileful heart:
 far from the road chase him away. Tread with thy foot and trample out the firebrand of the wicked one,
 the double-tongued, whoe’er he be.
 Wise Pūan, wonder-worker, we claim of thee now the aid wherewith
 thou furtheredst our sires of old.
 So, Lord of all prosperity, best wielder of the golden sword,
 make riches easy to be won.
 Past all pursuers lead us, make pleasant our path and fair to tread:
 O Pūan, find thou power for this.
 Lead us to meadows rich in grass: send on our way no early heat:
 O Pūan, find thou power for this.
 Be gracious to us, fill us full, give, feed us, and invigorate:
 O Pūan, find thou power for this.
 No blame have we for Pūan; him we magnify with songs of praise:
 We seek the Mighty One for wealth [Griffith, Rig Veda].
An alternate translation of this hymn is as follows:
Conduct us, Pushan, over our road; remove distress, son of the deliverer; go on before us. Smite away from before us the destructive and injurious wolf which seeks after us. Drive away from our path the waylayer, the thief and the robber. Tread with thy foot upon the burning weapons of that deceitful wretch, whoever he be. O wonder-working and wise Pushan, we desire that help of thine wherewith thou didst favour our fathers! O god, who bringest all blessings, and art distinguished by the golden spear, make wealth easy of acquisition! Convey us past our opponents; make our paths easy to travel; gain strength for us here. Lead us over a country of rich pastures; let no new trouble (beset our) path. Bestow, satiate, grant, stimulate us; fill our belly. We do not reproach Pushan, we praise him with hymns; and we seek riches from the wonder-working god [Wilkins, Hindu Mythology].
Probable distribution of Indo-Europeans (based on linguistic distribution of Indo-European languages)
Sources and further reading:



Written by M. Sentia Figula; find me at romanpagan.blogspot.com and Roman Pagan on Facebook

7 comments:

  1. Hi!

    This reminds me of the time when I was 13-14. I used the Interpreatio Graeca to understand all other mythologies. I remember I equated Lakshmi rather with Aphrodite then Hera, whom I, being Zeus's wife, equated with Saraswati, Brahma's wife. But as goddess of wisdom and music, she's indeed more Athena (whom I regarded as the Greek counterpart of Durga). No I would equate Aphrodite with Rati, Hindu-goddess of lust and desire. Zeus is indeed identical with Indra, though his name is etymologic identical with Dyaus.

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    1. Thanks for your comments☺ As Juno (in the form of Juno Moneta) was also associated with wealth in ancient Rome I considered Lakshmi (popularly associated with wealth) to be a fairly straightforward counterpart for her, likewise the association of both Saraswati and Minerva with skilful intelligence made their equation irresistible. It was not so straightforward regarding Venus though. I had not considered Rati (many thanks for alerting me to her) – actually she did not come up on any Hindu websites I looked at and I gather she is not popularly revered by Hindus. I agree that definitely Rati, as a Goddess of sexuality, must be associated with Venus but I suggest that Rati is an aspect of Venus, rather than her direct counterpart, only because (1) I find it difficult to believe that Venus could be regarded as a minor Goddess in Hinduism and (2) Rati appears to represent only the pleasure aspect of sexual activity and is not associated with fertility, motherhood and deeper (sexual) love in the way that both Venus and Parvati are. Note that Parvati is a major Goddess amongst Hindus. However, I see that it appears that Rati and Parvati are closely connected in Hindu mythology (see http://vedicgoddess.weebly.com/3/post/2012/10/rati-maa-the-goddess-of-love-and-passion-yogi-ananda-saraswathi.html) – so we can say they are closely related, indeed one cannot do without the other … I will definitely add her name to the table – she is clearly too significant to be ignored! This whole topic is a minefield and I concede I could be entirely wrong about everything. Thanks again for your thoughts☺

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    2. I don't think you could be wrong here. Remember, this is called "interpreatio" by Roman and Greek writers. The celtic deity Teutates/Toutatis (from Asterix) was sometimes equated with Mars and sometimes with Mercury. My comment wasn't meant as a "correction" to your blog, just as my interpretation. Parvati is indeed a more lovely equivalent for Venus, who was celebrated on 1st of April as goddess of true love and fidelity in love. I think I read about the interpretation of Venus as Rati somewhere in an old book, back from the 19th century from someone who visited the conquered Indian countries. So Venus=Parvati and Venus=Rati might be both correct. Interesting is the similarity between Eros/Amor/Cupid(o) and Kama: their names mean 'love', they fly (one on his own wings, the other on a parrot) and both used arrows to make people fall in love.

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    3. Another argument for the equating of Minerva and Saraswati would be that both goddesses are associated with music instruments: Saraswati with a vina and Minerva was celebrated by fluters during the Quinquatrus minusculae in june.

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    4. Many thanks for your comments and observations:)

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  2. Just like to say that if Zeus/Jupiter is Indra, then Hera/Juno the consort of Zeus/Jupiter must be Indra's consort Sacidevi. She is the equavilent of the mother queen of the gods. Lakshmi seems to be more in harmony with Aphrodite/Venus. Both came from the sea and are also connected with beauty and pearls.

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    1. You may well be right about Lakshmi and Venus - not sure about Sacidevi though. Juno/Hera is the the Goddess of motherhood and marriage is a major Goddess in the Greco-Roman pantheon, she is much more than the consort of Zeus/Jupiter. Sacidevi seems not to be widely worshipped? Maybe she should be though? When I wrote this post I may have been overly keen to find Vedic/Hindu equivalents to the Greco-Roman Gods, but I now I tend to think that every polytheistic religion has its own way of comprehending the divine which is why finding equivalent Gods across pantheons is so difficult and to be approached with much caution.

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