The late Vedic age saw the compilation
of the two great ITHIHASAS (epics), the RAMAYANA and the MAHABHARATA. The legends of both which Ramayana and Mahabharata consist have
come down, by tradition, from the earliest period of the Vedic
age. The stories of these epics are secular in nature but they
not only describe the feats of their heroes but also refer to
the influence that the gods had on their exploits. Thus the
stories of the gods were supplemented and expanded as they were
woven into the narratives and the heroes themselves got assimilated
into Indian popular religion and became deified.
|BRAHMA - VISHNU - MAHESHA
THE HINDU TRINITY
Further development of the Indian society brought about changes
in religious concepts and an increase in the size of the pantheon.
This grew by a process of absorption and combination, adopting
popular deities into a sophisticated and well-developed assembly
and merging several deities into one. Thus the minor
Vedic deity Vishnu was identified with Vasudeva and another
epic hero Krishna.
Later, Krishna himself got assimilated with a pastoral flute-playing
deity and became the subjects of many poems and legends. At
the same time, an ancient fertility god, Shiva,
was elevated to the higher ranks of the pantheon and
became an important deity with a variety of forms that gave
him popularity equal to that of Vishnu. Shiva and Vishnu were visualized
as forming a triad with Brahma.
Eventually the traditional legends, myths and tales were incorporated
into the PURANAS summing up all that was to be known about
the gods. The word PURANA means "old" and the Puranas wove
same historical legends and mythological fictions as the VEDAS
and ITHISASAS. But they give a more definite and connected
representation of the cosmogony and mysticism of these poems,
and they expand and systematize their chronological computations
and genealogies. They reduce the formless and fleeting religious
conceptions of the Vedas and the popular family traditions
of the Ithihasas to a fixed body of definite mythology.
The popular heroes of the Vedic age were transformed into
Gods and the shadowy gods of the Vedas gradually took the
positive forms under which they appear in the Puranas and
have been worshipped since. In the Puranas the gods assumed
a substantial shape and individual character. The sacrificial
rites and observances of the worship of the gods, for the
first time were given a paramount place.
The concept of TRIMURTI - the PURANIC GODS - emerged and
gained importance over the centuries. BRAHMA the Creator, VISHNU the preserver
and SHIVA or MAHESHA the destroyer came to denote the three
characteristics of GOD - Generator, Operator and Destructor
and the basis of the HINDU TRINITY.