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Recurring stories

Updated July 02, 2013

Gal samhaj leye te rola ki
E ram rahim te maula ki

In our petty attempts to entrench ourselves deeper into a presumed cultural/social/religious identity, we often forget how closely the mythologies, languages and cultures of the world are intertwined and connected.

Take the example of the oldest recorded civilization from the history of this land – the Indus Valley Civilization, of whose language, social structure and belief system we know hardly anything. What little we do know about this most elusive and mysterious of civilizations is that it apparently stretched from the Northern Areas of Pakistan and Tibet of today down till the Indus Delta, and connected the upper reaches of the Ganges in the East with the Makran coast and parts of Afghanistan in the West.

Hardly any ancient weapons have been found in the several excavation sites of the Indus Valley, famous amongst which are Mohenjodaro, Harappa, Mehergarh, Kalibangan and Kot Diji; but what has been found are remnants of incredibly advanced city structures with sewerage systems, which Pakistan today can be envious off; as well as pots, utensils, tools, toys, sculptures and several clay tablets and seals with inscriptions and depictions of various animal and human figures.

One of the most famous of depictions amongst these tablets is of a horned figure sitting in a cross-legged posture surrounded by wild animals. This figure has also been called the proto Shiva Pashupati by historians and Indologists, because of the resemblance with the later god of Hindu Mythology, Shiva the lord of beasts.

But even more striking and uncanny is the resemblance of this figure with a deity from Celtic mythology known as Cernunnos, the god of nature and fertility, across the globe in Western Europe.

Another ancient symbol which first originated in the Indus valley, was adopted by Hinduism and Buddhism, and is also found in ancient Europe during the Greco-Roman culture, is the Swastika (su-astika in Sanskrit means good fortune or well being), the four-spiraled cross, which was reused and misused in modern times by Hitler’s Third Reich.

According to the most widely accepted theory, the Indus Valley was later believed to have been colonised by an Indo European people known as the Aryans, who brought the Vedas to India and the Avestas to Persia. “Arya”, which in Sanskrit means “noble”, is also found in the roots of the names of both Ireland (ancient name: Eire) and Iran today.

The two major deities of the ancient Indian Vedic mythology are Varuna, the god-priest of the sky and the upholder of the law; and Indra, the god of warriors and thunder who wields the ‘Vajra’ or lightening bolt in his hands.

Across the world in Northern Europe these correspond with the two main deities of Nordic mythology, Odin and Thor – Odin being the god of wisdom and prophesy and upholder of the cosmic order; and Thor being the god of war who makes thunder with his magical hammer, Mjolnir.

Even closer to the Vedic deities are the gods Uranus and Zeus of Greek mythology – Uranus, the god of order and sky and Zeus, the god of thunder, who wields the lightning bolt in his hands.

As the warrior classes started to usurp the power of the scholars, druids and holy men, thus did the later mythological tales around the world begin to change; Varuna and Uranus became lost in the obscure past while Indra and Zeus gained popularity and became kings of the gods in the minds of men.

Even the mythology of the Abrahamic religions is further back connected to a larger world mythology. Take the story of the Ark for example. Before it appears in the Bible, it appears in the ancient Mesopotamian epic of Gilgamesh, when Utnapishtim recounts his story of the flood and the Arc to the Babylonian hero king.

The story of the deluge also exists in ancient Indian mythology as the story of Manu who, together with the seven Rishis or sages, is rescued by the Matsya Avatar of lord Vishnu in the form of a fish, in order to begin a new cosmic cycle of the universe; as well as amongst most indigenous people of Central and South America.

Plenty of books have been written and lots of films made on the recurrent patterns of myths between different cultures. There are endless examples if one starts investigating – such as similarities between the attributes of the Egyptian god Horus, the Greek Dionysius, the Persian Mithras and the Christian Jesus; the recurrence of the trinity in different cultures or other numbers (such as the seven colors of the rainbow, seven heavens in various mythologies, seven notes of the scale), etc. Some even believe in conspiracy theories that such recurring myths are constantly being reinforced amongst civilizations so that a small powerful group of people can govern and control the minds of the masses.

I personally don’t take stock in conspiracy theories. I rather tend to believe that certain objective truths or realities exist, which people try to interpret and express according to their own subjective understanding, using whatever forms of expression they have learnt or been conditioned into. To quarrel and fight over whose version of the story is the correct one, means to lose touch with the actual evolving/self-realising nature of the truth.