by Selvi Viswanathan and Terry Foxx
Terry Foxx: My February blog was on the Mythology of Trees. Selvi Viswanathan contacted me and said, “In India they worship trees.” This intrigued me because I had made the statement “worship of trees was worldwide.” I was only familiar with the Celtic tribes because I had traveled to Ireland. I asked Selvi how they worshiped trees. She sent me back this interesting blog intertwined with her childhood experiences. But before that, I want to discuss mythology.
What is Mythology?
Mythology is a collection of traditional tales called myths from various cultures all over the world. Many date back to ancient times and deal with gods and heroes of a particular culture. They are stories that deal with the human condition.
Why is mythology so important? Myths are more than just stories. They serve a profound purpose in ancient and modern cultures. They explain the world to the ancient folk and answer timeless questions for modern and ancient humans. They are as relevant to us today as they were to the ancients and help explain cultural differences between people.
HINDUISM AND MYTHOLOGY
There are three major religions in India, of which mythology is important. Eighty percent of the population is Hindu. Other forms of religion include Buddhism, Sikhism, Jainism, and others. Throughout India, shrines, temples, mosques, and churches are found right next to each other. The myths and stories of the gods and goddesses are deep in the Hindu culture. It is common to find images of gods and goddesses in public and private spaces. Festivals and images of natural landscapes are important, as are trees and rivers.
In the Hindu culture, the Trinity of the gods includes Brahma the creator, Vishnu the protector, and Shiva the destroyer. They are all male with consorts. Brahma’s consort is Saraswati, goddess of education, music, and art. Once created, they must do beneficial things. Vishnu is the protector, and his consort is Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth. Shiva is the destroyer. His consort is Parvati who represents energy and the force to do things in life.
Beyond the three gods, there is Cupid (Kama), also a male. He is considered the god of love. His beautiful wife is Rathi. A favorite story is when Kama tries to play mischief with his arrow on Shiva during meditation. Shiva is upset and curses him. Kama’s consort Rathi prays to Parvati to forgive him. Many such stories are found in the Hindu culture. Forgiveness and other aspects are important to humanity, thus the story.
Selvi Viswanathan’s observations: On 20 February 2023, I came across Terry Foxx’s article on the Mythology of Trees. It intrigued me. How did we worship trees in my native India? My answer led me down the memory lane of my childhood.
Hindus have always had great reverence for trees and other plants. They are the foundation of life and growth. In fact, every tree has a tree deity or a god/goddess who is worshiped, respected, and given offerings.
In my childhood in India, all parts of the plant are worshipped. They offer roots, stems, leaves, flowers, and fruits to God since time immemorial. It is a symbol of gratitude. They believe that life cannot exist without trees.
Although many trees are worshipped, I would like to discuss only one tree, the Mango tree, as an example. This tree has a fruit often seen on fruit stands in the US.
The Mango Tree: The mango tree is native to India. It grows from seeds and can grow up to 100 ft or more with a canopy of 35 ft or more. The leaves are approximately 12 inches long. It is considered an evergreen tree. The mango tree provides many travelers and villagers shade. It is also the home of many animals and birds.
The Mango is a national fruit. It consists of an outer skin, a fleshy edible portion, and a large seed.
Mythology: The mango tree mythology is an inseparable part of Indian Culture and customs. The Hindus believe the mango tree is the home of the gods. So, they decorate their home with mango leaves during their favorite festivals.
Love arrives with the blossoming of the mango tree. Kama (Cupid), the god of love, tips his arrow with five flowers, one of them a mango.
Childhood Memories: We had a mango tree in our yard, probably from a seed we discarded after eating the fleshy mango. It was in an area of our yard enclosed by walls. We did not notice it until it got about 10 ft tall. When the tree was big enough, I could cut the branches to decorate our front door for festivals.
There was a wall between our neighbor’s house and our house. I could reach the mango tree to cut the branches if I climbed the wall (8ft high). My neighbor used to warn me, “You are a girl, you’re not supposed to climb the wall.” I am glad my parents allowed me to have the freedom to climb!
My favorite story about the mango was used as a reward by Shiva. At Kailash, the abode of Shiva and Parvathi, they were spending time with Ganesh and Subramanya, their children. Shiva decided to have a competition between the two children. “Whoever goes around the world first and comes back will get the fruit of the mango. “Subramanya, with his peacock, started and went around the world. However, Ganesh just went around his parents and was rewarded with the mango. Subramanya got upset and left in anger.
The story conveys that parents are the world for the child. I loved it and asked our good friend, Sri Rajam, a well-known artist for authentic painting, to do a painting for Hari’s bedroom when he was a child. I now have it in my computer room.
Culture is often defined by myths told, over and over. If you have any information about myths of any specific culture, please let Terry know.