Olympus to Meru: Pantheons of Gods and Goddesses

Reading Time: 5 minutes

Ruchira draws a parallel between the Hindu and Greco-Roman pantheons of gods and goddesses, in the weekly column, exclusively in Different Truths.

I am an avid reader of fiction. And one of my favourite areas happens to be mythology.  In the course of my reading, I have extensively read legends and myths from Vedas, Puranas, Upanishads, and legends from Greece and Rome as well. I was amazed to discover that in spite of being divergent cultures, there are striking similarities between Greco-Roman and Hindu mythologies. There appear to be parallel threads binding them together.

We may be aware that in all ancient civilisations – Greek, Roman, Egyptian or Aryan – people practiced pantheism i.e. worship of natural and worldly objects, believing that the Supreme Being manifests Himself everywhere. This is possibly the reason why all these civilisations have pantheons virtually swarming with gods and goddesses  

Let us consider a few examples. The Hindu sun god Surya or Aditya corresponds to the radiant, virile Apollo or Helios. He is the presiding deity of law and order. The moon deity Soma may be likened to the exquisitely beautiful Diana (Artemis). The counterpart of Saraswati – deity of knowledge, music, art, and culture is Minerva, (Roman) or Athena (Greek). Lakshmi the goddess of wealth, prosperity, hearth and home is similar to Roman Vesta or Greek Hestia. Then we have Vishwakarma, the divine architect-cum-blacksmith-cum workman, who is worshipped as Vulcan (Roman) or Greek Hephaestus.  Usha the goddess of dawn is hailed as Eos in Greco-Roman.

The Muses (nine female deities) are patrons of dance, music, performing arts et al.  Each Muse has her area of specialisation  viz., Clio(History), Urania (Astronomy), Melpomene (Tragedy), Thalia (Comedy), Terpsichore (Dance), Calliope (Epic Poetry), Erato (Love Poetry), Polyhymnia (divine songs) and Euterpe (lyrics). Their Indian counterparts are Gandharvas – male deities possessing brilliant dancing and musical skills. Husbands of Apsaras (celestial dancing damsels) the Gandharvas are usually depicted as performing in the court of Indra, king of gods. 

Interestingly, Indra also presides over rain and thunder and is shown carrying the Vajra (thunderbolt). Likewise, Zeus the king of Greek gods also controls rain and thunder. His weapon is again the thunderbolt. To the Greeks Poseidon (aka Neptune) is the god of oceans. His counterpart in the Hindu pantheon is Varuna. Poseidon’s weapon is a golden trident, whereas Varuna holds a Pash (a combination of an arrow and a trident). Poseidon’s brother the Greek God Uranus (Roman Caelus) rules over the skies.

We also have Hera (Roman Juno), wife of Zeus and queen of the Greek gods.  Like Indra’s spouse Sachi. Juno is the epitome of fidelity, sincerity, and faith. She is also the guardian of marriage and family. However, there is a point of difference. Unlike Indra who is happily monogamous, Zeus is notorious for his adultery or debauchery. To keep their wedlock on the rails, Juno is, therefore, portrayed as jealous, vengeful and vicious towards Zeus’ paramours their illegitimate progeny.

There is a distinct Hindu deity safeguarding families and children. She is known as Shashthi (literally ‘sixth’ deity). She is also the custodian of vegetation, fertility and is believed to assist during childbirth. She is depicted as a motherly woman, nursing an infant or two and riding a cat.

Yama the god of death is shown as riding a buffalo holding a mace in one hand. He is the final judge of the human souls, the ruler of death and afterlife. His kingdom is Patala (Naraka) situated miles below the earth. His Greek counterpart is Pluto, who dons a helmet that renders him invisible, drives a dark chariot pulled by four black horses. He rules over Hades from where no soul can ever return.

Aphrodite is the Greek goddess of love, beauty, and pleasure. She is hailed as Venus by the Romans. Her icons are roses, doves, sparrows, and swans. Her Indian equivalent is Rati goddess of love, carnal desire, lust, passion and sexual pleasure. She is the wife of Kamadeva, the god of love. Kama (aka Madana or Manmatha) corresponds to Greek deity Eros, or Cupid who is shown blindfolded because, love, as they say, is blind.  His weapon is a cluster of arrows/darts. Their tips are magically treated to create either passion or a total disinterest in the person, whom the wounded victim first saw.  Kāmadeva is shown handsome, winged young man, wielding a bow and arrows decorated with myriad fragrant blossoms.

Both the Vedic and Greek gods have their own messengers. The Greek messenger deity Hermes (Mercury) is the son of Zeus, whereas the Vedic messenger Narada is the son of Brahma the creator. The sprightly Hermes, (who also oversees travelers and dreams), wears winged sandals, a winged hat, and holds a magic wand whereas Narada constantly strums on his stringed Tanpura, glorifying his mentor Narayana.

The Ashwini Kumars – twin sons of Surya – are depicted as eternally youthful, handsome and athletic. They represent dual concepts e.g., light and dark, healing and destruction et al. The duo also functions as physicians of the gods. Their Greco-Roman counterparts are Castor and PolluxCastor is reputedly an ace horse-trainer, while Pollux is a great boxer. Their manifold functions include protecting warriors in battles and sailors at sea.

Now, we come to the final point of similarity. The deities were immortals and hence superior to humans/mortals. So they invariably chose to create their dwelling place far beyond the reach of ordinary beings. That perhaps explains why Zeus and other Greek deities resided atop Mount Olympus. In a similar fashion, all principal deities of Hindu mythology made their abode on Mount Meruthe mythical golden mountain that stood at the centre of the universe and was the axis of the world. Only the most pious and sinless souls could ascend the mount, after leaving the mundane world behind. 

©Ruchira Adhikari Ghosh

Photos from the Internet

#HinduAndGrecoRoman #SimilarityOfGodsAndGoddesses #HinduAndRomanGods #ZeusAndIndra #MythologyComparism #SliceOfLife #DifferentTruths

Born in Guwahati Assam, Ruchira grew up in Delhi and Punjab. A product of Sacred Heart Convent, Ludhiana, she holds a Master’s degree in English Literature from Punjab University, Chandigarh. Armed with a P.G diploma in journalism in Journalism, she has been a pen-pusher for nearly 25 years. Her chequered career encompasses print, web, as well as television. She has metamorphosed as a feature writer, her forte being women’s issues, food, travel and literature.