India has a long history which is rather unique in the world. And this history, both recorded and unrecorded, is soaked in a magical mist – a richly variegated collection of its mythology. India’s mythology is almost incomparable in that it is history itself for the Indians, though it is just a mound of stories traditionally handed down from generation to generation of a nature-worshipping people. The creativity of the Indians had done something superb over the millennia: rivers, oceans, ponds, trees, the wind, clouds, thunder and lightning, the stars, the moon, the earth, the birds, snakes, animals etc., were all given divinity and were deified. Lord Vishnu, the super god, travels on an eagle, and he rests on Ananta, a legendary five headed snake-king. Lord Shiva, another super god has a bull as his carrier. Lord Ganesha has the appearance of an elephant and travels on the back of a mouse. Lord Subrahmanya has a peacock for his vehicle. Lord Rama, the hero or Ramayana, and an incarnation of Lord Vishnu has as his trusted disciple a monkey God, Hanuman. There are gods and goddesses. There are animal deities and mountain deities as are river deities. There are enemies of the gods and enemies of the human race. There are demi-gods, and rishis or sages. Rain gods and wind gods. You have the Hindu mythology as well as the Buddhist, Jain, Sikh and the rest of it. And thus the mythology of India is woven around nature and its beings, its history of conquests and defeats, its hopes and its vices and virtues. It is not just puranas or the epics or the ballads. You have a whole book, the earliest in the world and dedicated to the animal kingdom – the Panchatantra, which symbolizes, in the form of parables, the ways of the mind of men. And the impact all this had on the personal and social life in India, as well as elsewhere, was tremendous, and the spell continues. In a nutshell, this ‘mound’ of lore is the essence of the cultural existence of India.
Into the innate brilliance and charm of India’s lore, thousands of years had made inroads through invasions and conquests and got assimilated into the pre-existent beliefs. And this synthesis enriched and enlarged the inimitable body of Indian mythology. It has a pre-historic, proto-Dravidian beginning and a Dravidian base into which came the Vedic, Hindu, Buddhist and Jain periods leading to the later era of the Islamic and European invasions. All the while, the Indian psyche could retain every bit of what it had. The Indian concept of deities and gods evolved through these periods and the changing patterns of social and political life. The evolution of a new order with the synthesis of the Aryan or Vedic gods with the native Dravidian deities brought about more color and more variety to the fabric of Indian mythology. For the Indians the boundaries between myths and history did not matter much and they shaped up their beliefs conveniently to suit the socio-political requirements of the times.