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Vedic texts tell of the sacrifice of a primal being called Purusha, whose cut-up body becomes all the elements of the universe. Another image of creation, that of fertilization and pregnancy, occurs in myths about Prajapati, the father of all humans and animals. Sometimes This illustration shows the three major Hindu gods—Brahma, the creator of life; Vishnu, the protector of life; and Shiva, the god of destruction. Myths of Tvashtar, a minor Vedic god of carpentry or architecture, explain creation as an act of building. As Hinduism developed and the Trimurti gained importance, a complex vision of the creation, destruction, and recreation of the universe emerged.

Brahma brings the universe into being through his thoughts. The world then passes through a Maha Yuga, or great age, that lasts 4,, years. The Maha Yuga contains four yugas, or ages. Each is shorter and more immoral than the one before, from the Krita Yuga—Brahma's golden age—through two intermediate ages under Vishnu's protection to the Kali Yuga—Shiva's dark age.

Each dark age in turn gives way to a new golden age, and the cycle of the Maha Yuga repeats a thousand times.

Vedic Tour of our Universe and Beyond

Then Shiva destroys all life with scorching heat and drowning flood, and the earth remains empty while Vishnu sleeps. After a thousand Maha Yugas, a lotus flower emerges from Vishnu's navel, and it becomes Brahma, ready to perform his creative act anew. The Avatars of Vishnu. Many myths deal with Vishnu's avatars, the incarnations of the god on earth.

The most common list of the ten avatars begins with Matsya, the fish that protects Manu from the flood. The second avatar is Kurma, a tortoise that holds Mount Mandara on his back so that the gods can use it as a paddle to churn the ocean and produce a drink of eternal life.


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Varaha, a boar who appears after a demon giant pulls the earth to the bottom of the ocean, is the third incarnation. Varaha defeats the demon and raises the earth on his tusks. Narasinha, the fourth avatar, is half man and half lion.

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He defeats a demon who cannot be killed by man or beast. The dwarf Vamana, the fifth incarnation, triumphs over Bali, a being who had gained control of the world. When Bali grants Vamana as much land as he can cover in three strides, the dwarf becomes a giant and strides over heaven and earth. The sixth avatar, ax-wielding Parashurama, frees the priests from the domination of the warriors.

This drawing illustrates a Hindu creation myth. The tortoise supports elephants that hold up the world, and everything is encircled by the world serpent. The seventh incarnation, Rama, is the hero of the Ramayana. The eighth is the god Krishna; and the ninth is Buddha. Hindus believe that Buddha came to earth to draw people away from the proper worship of the Vedas so that the world would decline and be destroyed, as the cosmic cycle demands. The tenth avatar, Kalki, will appear at the end of the world to preside over its destruction and the creation of a new, pure world.

The Birth of Ganes ha. Shiva's wife, Parvati, produced Ganesha—and did so without any help from Shiva, according to many accounts. Some say that Shiva, being immortal, had no desire for a son, but Parvati wanted a child and produced the boy from her own body. In other versions, Shiva gave Parvati a doll that at her touch magically came to life as a baby. According to one story, Shiva struck off the boy's head, either because Ganesha prevented him from approaching Parvati or because Shiva believed that his son was doomed to die.

Parvati's grief, however, moved him to try to replace the head, and he finally succeeded in attaching an elephant's head to the boy's body. Indra and the Serpent. Legends of the slaying of a serpent or dragon appear in many cultures. In Hindu mythology, one such story centers on the god Indra and the "footless and handless" demon Vritra, described as both snake and dragon.

The tale is told in the Vedas and dates from the time when Indra was king of the gods. Using a divine thunderbolt, Indra struck Vritra between the shoulders, slicing open the mountain on which Vritra lay. The blow separated heaven from earth and land from water. The waters that Vritra had contained flowed forth to bring life. Indra's heroic victory made him the champion of all who struggled to overcome obstacles or resistance. Hindu belief and mythology color every aspect of life and culture in India. They are the basis of countless works of art, from plays about Rama written in the s to modern Indian movies based on mythic stories.

In a previous lifetime, Shikandini was a woman named Amba , who was rendered unmarriageable by the hero Bhishma.

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Humiliated, Amba undertook great austerities, and the gods granted her wish to be the cause of Bhishma's death. Amba was then reborn as Shikhandini. A divine voice told Drupada to raise Shikhandini as a son; so Drupada raised her like a man, trained her in warfare and arranged for her to marry a female. On the wedding night, Shikhandini's wife discovered that her "husband" was female, and insulted her. Shikhandini fled, but met a yaksha who exchanged his sex with her.


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Shikhandini returned as a man with the name 'Shikhandi' and led a happy married life with his wife and children. During the Kurukshetra war , Bhishma recognised him as Amba reborn and refused to fight 'a woman'. Accordingly, Arjuna hid behind Shikhandi in order to defeat the almost invincible Bhishma. In the Javanese telling, Srikandi as she is known never becomes a man, but is a woman equal to men, and is the wife of Arjuna.

Arjuna himself is an example of gender variance. When Arjuna refused her amorous advances, the nymph Urvashi cursed Arjuna; he would become a "kliba," a member of the third gender. Krishna assured Arjuna that this curse would serve as the perfect disguise for Arjuna during his last year of exile.

Arjuna took the name Brihannala and dressed in women's clothes, causing the curse to take effect.


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  5. The story of Ila , a king cursed by Shiva and Parvati to alternate between being a man and woman each month, appears in several traditional Hindu texts. After changing sex, Ila loses the memory of being the other gender. During one such period, Ila marries Budha the god of the planet Mercury.

    Although Budha knows of Ila's alternating gender, he doesn't enlighten the 'male' Ila, who remains unaware of his life as a woman. The two live together as man and wife only when Ila is female. In the Ramayana version, Ila bears Budha a son, although in the Mahabharata Ila is called both mother and father of the child. After this birth the curse is lifted and Ila is totally changed into a man who goes on to father several children with his wife. Numerous deities have been considered patrons of third-sex or homoerotically-inclined people. This patronage can originate in epical stories about the deity, or from religious practices and rituals.

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    For example, Conner and Sparks argue that the goddess of fire, love and sexuality, Arani, has been linked to lesbian eroticism via rituals in her honor: for example two pieces of wood perceived as feminine, called the adhararani and utararani , are rubbed together, simulating a spiritual lesbian interaction. These sticks are also perceived as male and female parents of the god Agni who in the Rig Veda is identified as a child of two births, two mothers and even three mothers. His mothers are identified as heaven and earth. These two, called Dyaus and Prithvi , however are also referred to as male and female in the Vedic verses.

    The two mothers are also referred to as sisters in the verses. The two sticks or aranis used in the ritual are referred to as feminine. In the Bhagavata Purana the two sticks are however interpreted as belonging to opposite genders. Bahuchara Mata is a patron goddess of the Hijra. In popular iconography she is often shown riding a rooster and carrying a sword, trident and a book.

    Various stories link Bahuchara to castration or other changes in physical sexual characteristics, sometimes as the result of her aiming curses against men. Bahuchara is believed to have originated as a mortal woman who became martyred. In one story, Bahuchara is attacked by a bandit who attempts to rape her, but she takes his sword, cuts off her breasts and dies. Stories also link Bahuchara to gender variance after she becomes divine. One epic concerns a king who prayed to Bahuchara for a son. Bahuchara complied, but the prince grew up to be impotent. One night Bahuchara appeared to the prince in a dream and ordered him to cut off his genitals, wear women's clothes and become her servant.

    Bahuchara is believed to continue to identify impotent men and command them to do the same. If they refuse, she punishes them: for their next seven incarnations they will be impotent. This epic is the origin of the cult of Bahuchara Mata, whose devotees are required to self-castrate and remain celibate. Samba , the son of Krishna , is also a patron of eunuchs, transgender people and homoeroticism. Samba dresses in women's clothes to mock and trick people, and so that he can more easily enter the company of women and seduce them. As a result of the curse, Samba, although remaining male, gives birth to an iron pestle and mortar.

    Homosexual or bisexual activity also occurs between gods, although such interactions are most usually considered purely ritualistic, or have purposes other than sexual pleasure.

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    Agni , the god of fire, wealth and creative energy, has same-sex sexual encounters that involve accepting semen from other gods. Although married to the goddess Svaha , Agni is also shown as being part of a same-sex couple with Soma , the god of the moon. Agni takes a receptive role in this relationship, accepting semen from Soma with his mouth, paralleling Agni's role in accepting sacrifices from Earth to Heaven. Orthodox Hinduism emphasises that these are " mithuna ", ritual sexual encounters, and Agni and his mouth represent the feminine role.

    Agni also accepts semen in epics of the conception and birth of Karttikeya , a god of male beauty and battle. However, Parvati is credited as Karttikeya's mother due to her having sexual intercourse with Shiva, causing him to ejaculate. Ganga is Karttikeya's mother in other versions, accepting semen from Agni and carrying the unborn child.

    The male progenitor is sometimes Shiva, Agni, or a combination of the two. Shiva then appears before the gods and declares "now let him step forward who will accept the semen I discharge". Due to the huge number of gods and goddesses, and their changing role through centuries of Indian spiritual life, this is a complex subject. This book covers Hindu mythology during the Vedic and Puranic periods.

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