Hindu Pantheon-Origin

Analysis and Conclusion: Origin of the Hindu Pantheon

V. Krishnakumar, N. M. Krishnakumar

1. Egyptian contribution to Hindu pantheon: 

When we analyze our mapping of Egyptian gods and festivals to those in India we get two major consistent groups of entities. The entities within a group are mutually consistent with no major contradiction. The rest of the entities that could not be included in either of the groups are put in the third group. The groups are as follows:

Group 1:

This group is developed in seven steps. Each step endorses the mapping defined in one of the previous steps, thus making the mapping consistent and stronger.

  • Step 1: The goddesses Isis in Osiris story and Draupadi in Mahabharata are very similar.
  • Step 2: The other commonalities between Mahabharata and Osiris story add to the strength of step 1.
  • Step 3: Lord Murugan is similar to Horus, in particular recall the similarity in their birth, growth in the swamp and papyrus flowers, their foster mothers Hathors and Saptamatrikas, respectively. Draupadi is considered an incarnation of Shakti and she is mapped to Isis. Shakti as mother of Murugan and Isis as the mother of Horus strengthens step 1.
  • Step 4: Hathors and Saptamatrikas are the respective foster mothers of Horus and Lord Murugan. Similarity between the respective foster mothers themselve, makes the claim of step 3 stronger.
  • Step 5: Other Egyptian gods equivalent to Murugan add further to the strength of step 3.
  • Step 6: Phallic worship associated with Hathors has its Indian counterpart of Shiva-Linga and Saptamatrikas. This strengthens the mapping of step 4.
  • Step 7: The cluster of Egyptian gods Ptah, Atum, Seth, Reshep mapping to Lord Shiva, while Hathor, Isis, Sekhmet and Anat being their consort and resembling Shakti add strength to the mapping of step 6.

Group 2:

  • Osiris is compared to Mahabali, as each of them was trampled by his respective opponent Seth and UAP. As a consequence of this event both became lords of the netherworld. Further, Seth became the doorkeeper of Osiris in the netherworld, as did UAP in the form of Vishnu. The comparison of Seth to Yali.
  • The close similarity of the image of Lord Ranganatha with Osiris.
  • The story of Lord Jagannath and the cart festival of Puri based on the legend of Osiris heart.
  • Several of the festivals, which are similar to that of Osiris, in particular Onam, Yaanai Pandigai and Krishnajayanthi.
  • Similarity of Horus killing Seth and Krishna killing Narakasura.

Group 3:

  • The calendar months match fairly well.
  • Several gods are mapped and discussed in great detail: Bes, Babi, Min, Re, Pataikos and the bovine deities.
  • Similarity of other festivals.

The Groups 1 and 2 are consistent within themselves, but across the group there is some confusion. This is because of the following reasons. We believe that not all the Hindu gods might have evolved simultaneously. There might have been some gods of local origin; Egyptian gods might have been included over a period of time, may be other migrants to India might have brought some more; many would have been merged into one; some might have got dropped; that is the evolution of the Hindu pantheon was a dynamic process. Therefore, it is appropriate to study who among the gods came first, and who might have evolved at a later period.

2. Early evolution of Hindu gods: Osiris, Isis, Horus, Seth and Hathor: 

Osiris visited India after entrusting the kingdom to Isis [1]. This must have happened somewhere in 3500 BC. We have the following account from Diodorus, who lived around 100 BC: Osiris, in his visit to India built many cities, one of which was Nysa; taught people agriculture and making wine; he loved hunting elephants; installed his statues in several towns [4]. If we believe this account, then he must have been worshipped by some in India, possibly out of gratitude for having learnt agriculture from him, since the same is true with Egyptians; they worship Osiris as their corn-god, the god who taught them agriculture. We need not believe that Indians learnt agriculture from Egyptians, nor is it necessary for our claim. It is sufficient to believe that his idols were worshipped by Indians after he left, whatever the reason may be. Therefore, stage 1 is that people in India worshipped Osiris idols after his visit. This does not mean that Indians did not have their own gods. It is perfectly possible that they had their own local gods and traditions. 

Osiris was killed by his brother Seth after his return to Egypt. His son Horus was brought up in difficult circumstances, and finally after a prolonged battle, Horus won and became the king [1]. Thus, a few decades or centuries after Osiris left India, the followers of Osiris in India might have come to know of his death and the story of the war. It is natural that Horus also became their god, as Horus became a very important god for the Egyptians. In fact, all the subsequent kings in Egypt were viewed as incarnations of Horus [5]; that shows the significance of Horus as god.

After the death of Osiris the legends of his resurrection and becoming lord of the netherworld must have developed over a period of time in Egypt and must have transmitted to India over a period of time. It is this form of Osiris that we mapped to Lord Ranganatha and Mahabali in our earlier discussion. Also recall that we have mapped Horus and Thoth to Lord Murugan especially as a child god with a staff. We do not know the form of Osiris image that was installed in India during his visit. However, after his death, at some point of time, we should have installed the image of Lord Rangantha representing Osiris. Likewise, we should have installed the images of Lord Muruga to represent HorusSimilarly temples of goddess Draupadi representing Isis, at times with Yudhisthira as her consort representing Osiris, must have come up. These new deities might have got amalgamated into the local traditions. Hence their names, rituals, dresses and myths might have been quite different, though they preserved the essence of their origin.

In due course of time, the festivals of Osiris might have evolved in Egypt and diffused into Indian tradition. The festivals of Osiris celebrated in Egypt basically have three components: a mourning component involving his death, a resurrection component of bringing him to life and a celebration component rejoicing his coming back.  The rituals of these festivals varied across different parts of Egypt [1] itself. Therefore there is no reason why the celebrations should not be diverse in India. There is more reason for it to be diverse in India, because the Osiris story itself might have got absorbed into different peoples at different points in time and space within India.

Thus, the stories of Osiris evolved in their own way in different parts of India, being modified and nurtured by the local tradition. Mahabharata was also one among them. The story of Lord Krishna slaying Narakasura and the story of Mahabali being pushed to netherworld are other major stories.  Over a period of time people of different parts of India had very different mythological stories, seemingly different gods and varied celebrations and rituals that almost masked their common origin. The mythological stories of India that we have shown earlier to map to Osiris story support this view: deep inside they have the essence of the Osiris story, but outwardly, they look quite different.

As one of the myths go, the Egyptian kingdom was divided between Horus and Seth. Thus the people ruled by Horus and Seth should have worshipped them as their respective gods, for the Egyptians viewed their kings as gods. Therefore, the evil-minded Seth, was also accepted as their god, by his subjects, out of necessity. The influence of this on India, is reflected by Ulagam Alendu Perumal (UAP) or Trivikrama/Vamana, who is mapped to Seth, becoming an important god in India. Recall that Seth trampled Osiris and killed him, Osiris became the lord of the netherworld, Seth ultimately guarded the door of Osiris in the netherworld; likewise UAP pushed Mahabali to the netherworld and became his doorkeeper there. Here is the paradox: we have mapped both Mahabali and Lord Ranganatha to Osiris; Lord Ranganatha is identified with Lord Vishnu; but UAP being an opponent of Mahabali is also an avatar of Lord Vishnu.

This paradox might have evolved in two stages:

  • Stage 1: There were two sects of people when the idea came to India, one worshiping Osiris/Ranaganatha, the other Seth/UAP.
  • Stage 2: At some point of time UAP and Lord Rangantha were amalgamated into Lord Vishnu; this amalgamation involved disregarding the common origin of Lord Rangantha and Mahabali; thus Mahabali was dissociated from Lord Vishnu, and placed on the opposite side, and was assigned new negative qualities like arrogance and ‘making Indra’s throne shaky’.

This paradox exists even today in Kerala: they accept UAP as an avatar of Lord Vishnu and the latter’s equivalence to Rangantha; but paradoxically continue worshipping Mahabali. It is possible that the introduction of Vedic Indra, who maps to Seth, might have led to this restructuring of Gods. Note that possibly till then and certainly even now in Kerala, Mahabali has no negative attributes; he is one king anyone would ever love to have, see the beautiful song of Onam in [95].

The advent of Hathor into the Indian pantheon was a natural thing to happen because, Hathor was the foster mother of Horus, and Horus maps to Lord Murugan. Thus, Sapthamatrikas were added to or came into greater prominence in the pantheon of Hindu gods. Along with Hathor, Tawaret must have come because we have shown her to be similar to Varahi. According to [90], Sapthamatrikas are non-Aryan goddesses who are dark skinned, speak foreign languages, live in periphery, related to Murugan and Shiva with non-brahminical attributes. According to [91], cult of female goddess was Dravidian, and hence Sapthamatrika too must be Dravidian. Therefore we have reasons to think that the concept of Shakti and Sapthamatrikas had their origin in Egypt from Isis and Hathor, migrated to South India at some point of time. Further this supports our hypothetical flow of the Mahabharata story as well.

Phallus was often associated with Hathor. Therefore, Linga must have got included along with Sapthamatrikas at some point of time.

We do not know the time scale or order in which the gods were introduced into Hindu pantheon, nor do we know when and how they evolved.

So far, we studied the evolution of the earliest gods of India that had Egyptian influence on them namely:

  • Osiris worshipped as Ranganatha, Mahabali, Yudhisthira, Yama, Krishna (in the context of Puri festival)
  • Isis worshipped as Draupadi, Shakti and Satyabhama
  • Horus worshipped as Murugan and Krishna (in the context of killing Narakasura)
  • Thoth worshipped as Murugan
  • Seth worshipped as UAP, Shiva, Rahu-Ketu
  • Hathor as Sapthamatrikas
  • Phallus as Linga

We have already discussed the origin of Mahabharata from Osiris story. In addition to the above mentioned gods story of Mahabharata should also have developed in India in some form by this time. Some of the festivals that were based on the Osiris story might have evolved by this time in India.

Note: We do not claim that the above-mentioned Indian gods did not exist before the influence of Egyptians. Nor do we claim that Indians had no gods at all before the Egyptian influence. All we want to say is, that at some point of time Egyptian influence would have contributed to what these gods are today.


[1] J.G. Frazer, The Golden Bough, A study in Magic and Religion, 3rd Edition, Macmillan and Co. London, 1914

[4] Muata Ashby, The African origins of Civilization, Religion, Yoga Mysticism, and Ethics Philosophy, 2nd Edition, ISBN 1-884564-50-X, 2005

[5] Richard H Wilkinson, The Complete gods and goddesses of ancient Egypt, Thames and Hudson, London, 2003

[87] http://henadology.wordpress.com/theology/netjeru/

[90] David Kinsley, Hindu Goddesses: Vision of the Divine Feminine in the Hindu Religious Traditions, MLBD,ISBN 81-208-0394-9, 1988

[91] N.N.Bhattacharyya, History of the Sakta Religion, Munshiram Manoharlal Publishers, New Delhi, 1996

[95] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Onam

Previous                                                  Index                                                                        Next


One Response to Hindu Pantheon-Origin

  1. Narasimha says:

    I like this

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s