The Webster dictionary defines ‘mythology’ as an allegorical narrative. Allegory is defined in the same dictionary as ‘the expression by means of symbolic fictional figures and actions of truths or generalizations about human existence’
Allegory is a figure of speech in which abstract ideas and principles are described in terms of characters, figures, and events. It can be employed in prose and poetry to tell a story, with a purpose of teaching or explaining an idea or a principle. The objective of its use is to teach some kind of a moral lesson.
To understand the concept of mythology, we need to understand allegory. Allegory has been employed in all forms of literature as an effective literary device. In today’s time we can see allegorical narratives in movies, cartoons etc. Some examples of allegory relevant to today’s times are
Modern Examples of Allegory
Wall-E is a moral-based allegory that teaches people to protect the Earth. The entire movie revolves around Wall-E and Eve, who are trying to save an abandoned Earth. In the end, the humans plant a green stem and water it, symbolizing their commitment to save the planet.
In Avatar, Pandora Woods represents the Amazon rainforest, a sanctuary from industry and development, which has no regard for nature but to pillage it for its bankable resources.
The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis is a religious allegory. In it, we find that Aslan the lion represents Christ or God, the White Witch represents evil, and Edmund represents Judas as the betrayer.
Animal Farm by George Orwell is a political allegory pertaining to the Russian Revolution of 1917 and the rise of communism. It outlines the different classes in society through the depiction of animals.
Mythology employs allegory to make an attempt to understand and explain the character of the Universe, without going into the scientific details of nature and composition on the physical plane.
Understanding Mythology as Allegory – Eg : The Sun God
Below are certain logical and scientific facts about the Sun.
- The Sun is by far the largest object in the solar system, and the most important one for life on Earth.
- The Sun as we understand is a star, a really hot star, due to the continuous nuclear reactions taking place on its surface.
- The Sun’s Light is so bright that we cannot look directly at the Sun without causing extreme discomfort to the eyes.
- The Sun brings heat and light to the Earth, which is important for life to continue.
- The light of the Sun has 7 colours that constitute the visible spectrum of light.
The Sun in Mythology
According to the Hindu Mythology, the Sun is personified as Surya Bhagwan. He is depicted as a powerful God, riding on a chariot pulled by seven horses, perhaps an allegorical reference to how the light of the Sun splits into seven colours and reaches the Earth?
According to mythology, gold is the colour associated with Lord Surya, again an allegorical reference to the colour of the Sun itself?
The Early people recognised the importance of the Sun and have been worshipping it since times immemorial. There is proven archeological evidence from all around the world. All ancient civilisations had a Sun God. The Egyptians called Him ‘Ra’ and had numerous temples dedicated to Him. The Greeks called their Sun God ‘Helios’ He drove a chariot daily from east to west across the sky and sailed around the northerly stream of Ocean each night in a huge cup, an allegorical reference to the movement of the Sun, and the water cycle?
From an astrological point of view, the Sun is the Karaka of the first house, the house or bhava which contains the zodiac sign which was illuminated by the Sun at the exact date, time and place of birth. This signifies life itself. I reiterate that Astrology is by no means a mythological study, but the allegorical reference continues here as well, which seems to be rather brilliant.
This is just touching the surface!
There are hundreds and thousands of mythological stories from ancient India, which somehow have survived the test of times for the simple reason that the channel of propagation of these tales has been through Shruti (that which has been heard) and Smriti (that which has been remembered). The written word might not have survived and spread owing to numerous reasons, but there was no holding back of the spoken word.
It is debatable whether these stories and representations are real or not. That is an argument for another day. But if we can make logical sense of the writings of the learned people of ancient times, who we actually know nothing about, and just try to appreciate the writing, I think we could all benefit much. After all the Surya Siddhanta, a comprehensive treatise on Astronomy in Sanskrit, was written in India in the 4th or 5th Century CE!
As inheritors of the ancient wisdom, it is for us to question and appreciate the knowledge that these mythological stories provide, rather than shun and criticise them.