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Myths: Daphne and Ahalya. Greek and Indian Culture Mythology Research Paper

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Updated: Dec 18th, 2021

Mythology is one of the treasures of historic culture and all the historical societies had their mythologies. The mythologies are treasured even today. Greek mythology is one of the most read mythologies nowadays and it is one of the most discussed topics in literature too. The great Roman poet Ovid (43 BC – 17 or 18 CE) wrote The Metamorphoses, which is a narrative poem. The book describes the Creation of the World and continues to the time of Julius Caesar and is considered as a mythic-historical document (Schipper 1-6). In this book there is the story of Daphne.

In Greek Mythology, Apollo, the son of Zeus, chased Daphne, who was a nymph. The Greek religious cult the pursuit of a nymph by an Olympian God is a stirring issue and in Ovid’s Metamorphoses, this is given a dramatic turn. In the book the God Eros deliberately shot an arrow at Apollo, Apollo mocked Eros’ archery skills and also he wanted to show Apollo the power of love’s arrows. It caused the God’s infatuation with the nymph. By the power of the arrow, Apollo’s majestic attitude went away and he turned into an elegiac lover. “Daphne prayed for help from the river God Peneus or Gaia” (Schipper 2). And she is turned to ‘Laurel’, a tree (Barnard 137). According to legends, her feet transformed to roots, her hair turned to leaves and her arms turned to branches. Her breasts become the thin bark of the tree. But her innocent and shinning beauty remained intact in the case. “Due to her presence the laurel became very important to Apollo and the winners in the Pythian Games were awarded by crowns from the laurel leaves” (Gregory 19).

Another very old culture is the Indian culture and instances of mythology are abundant here too. Like the Greek Classical Literature it also had two epics, Ramayana and Mahabharata. Basically they are the treasure houses of mythological stories, along with the Puranas, the Upanishads, the Vedas, and the Vedanta along with many other specimens found in Indian Mythology. Here in this discussion we deal with the story of Ahalya. “The story can be found in the great Indian Epic Ramayana” (Venkataswami 77).

One of the most powerful and important Gods in Hindu culture, Brahma created Ahalya. She was the most beautiful woman ever born. “The word ‘Ahalya’ means without any type of deformation” (Venkataswami 78). Brahma decided that the person who would travel the three World “Earth, Air and Water” (Venkataswami 81), first, will get to marry her. The king of the Hindu Gods, Indra Dev, also the king of thunder, wanted to marry her along with many other Hindu Gods. He used all his magical powers and at last traveled the three worlds to satisfy the condition of Brahma. When he was ready to marry her, Narada, another Hindu God told Brahma that Gautama, a renowned “Maharishi”, that is a saint, had performed the feat earlier than Indra and so Gautama is the person to marry her (Venkataswami 104).

Narada also described that why Gautama is the person to marry her. In Hindu culture the cow is a sacred animal and gets the respect of God. “Narada explained that Gautama daily went around a cow in his hermitage as ritual of his daily puja or offering” (Venkataswami 81). One day the cow gave birth to a calf when Gautama was encircling the cow. It is written in the Vedas, the holy book of Hindus, that going around a cow who is bearing a calf is equal to the task of traveling the three worlds. And so Gautama was the first one to round the three worlds and Ahalya was married to him (Schipper 1-6).

After her marriage, Ahalya went to live with her husband. Indra was angry about the deceit by Brahma and wanted to avenge this. Indra by his magical powers changed into Gautama and seduced her in the “ashrama” (hermitage). Gautama became very angry and cursed her (though in some versions it is said that she was turned to stone or she was made invisible). Gautama also cursed Indra and by his curse Indra had “marks of vulva all over his body” (Venkataswami 117). It was cured by Lord Shiva who was being made happy by Indra and the marks changed into eyes. Indra after that day had one thousand eyes. “After cursing Ahalya, Gautama left his hermitage” (Venkataswami 116).

Many years passed after the incident. Rama and his brother Laxman on the way to Mithilapuri with the great hermit Viswamitra came across the hermitage. They came to know about the unfortunate story of Ahalya. “Rama entered the hermitage and saw the stone which was said to be Ahalya” (Venkataswami 116). Rama laid a hand on the boulder with and it rehabilitated the attractive lady. Rama sanctified the lady, Ahalya, and she was unchained from the long-standing curse. Many different versions dealing with the story are available in Hindu mythology about Ahalya.

Both of the stories discussed above are from two of the oldest cultures of the World. And identically the two stories deal with the misfortunes of two beautiful women who became victims of the lust of powerful Gods and ultimately both of them had to suffer, one of them had to change into tree and the other had to turn into stone. In both the cases the Gods who did the sins were higher. Apollo was the son of Zeus. As we all know Zeus was the highest deity of Greek tradition. He was also the sovereign of the mount Olympus. On the other hand, Indra is the King of Hindu Gods.

But there is one difference in the stories. Where Daphne got her due respect and Apollo, for her memory presented the winners of the Pythian Games with Laurel leaves, Ahalya never got the respect. Indra’s act was nothing but an example of lust. Actually, both of the mythological stories deal with a wrong done by a supreme God (Barnard 132-168).

Generally both the mythologies are quite identical. In Greek mythology, the Gods live in Mount Olympus and the Titans were the antithesis of the Gods. In Hindu culture, Devas are the Gods and the Asuras are their chief enemies who reside in the Hell. In the week Thursday is the day of Zeus as well as Indra, and both of them are kings of Gods, and they have the same weapon too, the thunder (Schipper 1-6).

In ancient times people worshipped the natural powers and these powers ultimately changed into Gods. And by the process, Gods came into existence. The identical Gods in different cultures are nothing but the extension of this fact. There is a specific study called Comparative Mythology where one can study about origins of the stories. Some scholars believe that all of these stories and the Gods have originated from one singular source. Whether this is true or not, we cannot deny the fact that these mythological stories are real treasures of our ancient culture and sources for many immortal artistic creations. Maybe they had paved the way for advanced of humankind in different ways (Barnard 161).

There are both similarities and differences between the two myths. Both the myths describe the saga of women being dishonored by Gods and in both the occasion the women were not to be blamed. In both the cases, it was the male dominance and male perceptions of women’s position in the classical era. However, there are certain differences in accordance with the two cultures. When compared with Daphne, Ahalya appears to be very gentle and without much independence. In today’s terms, she can be described as a ‘housewife’ who is more inclined towards household duties and less interested in outward world. In comparison Daphne is a nymph and she has a place of her own in the league of gods and demigods. It was a misadventure between the gods that led her to the misfortune but she managed to keep her innocence intact. Ahalya, on the other hand lost her innocence in the hand of a lovesick god without many instigations. Daphne’s misfortune came in form of a rescue but for Ahalya, it was a curse.

There have been a lot of researches discussing the similarities of the mythological contents and a lot of philosophers have provided different explanations. From the point of view of a common people, we can say that these treasures enrich us and they do not belong to a single culture but the whole of humankind. In conclusion it should be stated that both the mythologies are interpretations of a definite mold set in the format of good and evil and simple black and white characters.

These characters go into battle to behold the ultimate victory of the good. However, all these affairs are well-knitted with splinters of wit and garnishing of insights leading to spiritual elaborations. It speaks of trust, hope, and other humane qualities that draw parables of simple notations like light touch and daylights. This is the journey of the human soul through ignorance and hate through fear and darkness that ultimately reaches the zenith of awareness, empathy, love, and trust. All these elements are present in the text but a rather simplistic manner. The entire concept appears to be a made easy formula of human dignity and the journey towards spirituality. It should be mentioned that whatever it is to the critics or the ardent followers, on a personal level and in a general sense it would be very safe to mention that though this is criticized apparently from various territories in the ultimate sense that these two mythologies are well constructed and has endured the test of time in literary history.

Works Cited

Barnard, Mary E. The myth of Apollo and Daphne from Ovid to Quevedo: love, agon, and the grotesque. New York: Duke University Press, 1987.

Gregory, Horace. The metamorphoses. London: Viking Press, 1958

Schipper, Mineke. Myth, Theory and Area Studies. London: Religion Compass, 3.1, (2009): 1-6.

Venkataswami, Narayan. The Ramayan of Valmiki. Kolkata: Chowkhamba Sanskrit series office, 1965.

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