I finished the last book by Rick Riordan, Tower of Nero yesterday. These book series, based on Greek and Roman mythology is one of my all time favourites. After I fell in love with the series I spent a lot of time researching and reading about Greek myths, and I can’t help but remark upon on how similar they are to Indian stories.
So let’s check out some of the similarities!
In Greek mythology as well as Hindu Mythology, the universe is ruled by three main Gods. The three main Gods according to Greek mythology are- Zeus, Hades and Poseidon and in Hinduism are- Vishnu, Shiva and Brahman.
Similarities in Characters and symbolism
Zeus is the King God as well as the lord of the skies. He wields a lightning bolt as his weapon and is often portrayed as an arrogant as well as slightly insecure deity. He constantly thinks people are conspiring against him and is quick to react. His Indian equivalent is Indra. Indra is also the King God and rules the skies. Not only is his character describes exactly as Zeus, but he also wields the same weapon!
Moving on, we have Hermes and Narada. They both act as messengers to the Gods and carry communications. They both travel freely between the worlds of the mortals, the divine world as well as the underworld. They both are described as cunning, occasionally manipulative deities and play a pivotal role in mythological tales. Hermes carries a lyre with him, while Narada carries a Veena (a traditional Indian instrument).
That’s not all!
The God of Love Kama and Cupid share more than a few similarities. They are similar in appearance and both yield the dreaded arrow of love. Saraswati and Athena are both Goddesses of wisdom. They both sprung up fully grown from their fathers heads. Yama and Hades both rule the underworld. Hephaestus and Vishwakarma are regarded as the ‘engineer’ or ‘construction’ God. Sharavra and Cerberus are both giant three-headed dogs that guard the entrance to the underworld. Not only do these mythological parallels see similarities in roles, they also share common descriptions.
Karna and Achilles also share a lot of similarities. The most striking similarity is their armor. Both of them had a kind of an impenetrable armor which almost made them invincible. Both of them were also incredibly skilled warriors in their respective epics. Both were demigods and became eternally famous for their exploits.
What’s the reason?
So why are these mythological stories so similar? Is it just sheer luck or is there something bigger behind the scenes?
Some historians think that this similarity might be because of a proto-Indo-European religion that pre-dated both. This might explain why both have common elements and icons but have different names for each mythology.
Other theories suggest that close trading links might be the reason behind this. And this hypothesis is not without any basis in reality.
The Battle of Guagamela witnessed Darius use Indian troops against Alexander the Great. The King Porus of India also battled against Alexander. These battles brought the two countries closer and saw the establishment of Indo-Greek kingdoms by Alexander’s successors. The Indo-Greek Kingdom was historically known as Yavanarajya. These kingdoms saw the hybridization and intermingling of Greek and Indian customs and cultures. Kingdoms established after the invasion of Demetrius also brought these two cultures together. One of the most famous Indo-Greek rulers was Menander I who later became a Buddhist.
Examples of this unique cultural merging are eminent in examples such as Megasthene’s Herakles (Hercules). In the aftermath of Alexander the Great’s conflicts in India, emerged an Indian version of Hercules. Megasthene, a Greek ambassador in India described this Hercules version to be a merge of Greek and Indian mythologies. Legends say that when the Greek army saw the Indian army fight under the flag of Vasudeva or Krishna, they considered it to be Hercules due to the similarities in appearance, hence resulting in this hybridization.
Greek mythology also refers to India multiple times. Dionysus was believed to have founded the city of Nysa in India. The river Ganga was also personified by the Greeks as a river god and a nymph by the name of Limaee was said to be her daughter.
Regardless of the actual reason, this provides us with an interesting lesson about how cultures only grow when they come together.