Tag Archives: hindu mythology

The Undressing of Draupadi


Draupadi wanted to marry one of the 5 main brothers from the Mahabharatha, but another man, Duryodhana wants her to marry him instead. He proposes to her, but is refused. Upon this refusal, one of his brothers begins trying to rip Draupadi’s clothes off. Krishna sees this, and decides to save Draupadi by maker her clothing infinite. No matter how much cloth Duryodhana’s brother rips off of her, there is always more that she is still wearing. 


This story is from the Mahabharatha, and is a plot point in the main storyline. An extremely simplified synopsis of the Mahabharatha is that it’s about the war between 5 brothers and 100 of their other brothers (Note that brother and cousin are essentially synonymous in this context). The “good guys” are the 5 brothers, and they eventually end up winning the war. 

This story is a simple lesson that one should respect women, and that to undress them is not okay.


In Indian culture, arranged marriages are a common practice, and the final decision on whether a marriage happens is given to the family as a whole, not the woman getting married. This story encourages respecting a woman’s desires for her marriage, even if the cultural norm or law doesn’t fully require it, and backs that up with a god taking the side of Draupadi. This makes even more sense to me that this story is found somewhat in opposition of the cultural norm when I remember that many tales come from being told by women as they do busywork. They used what ways they could to better how they were treated, and instilling good habits and respect in their children is a very powerful way to do so.

A Hindu Creation Story

Nationality: Indian, American

Primary Language: English

Other language(s): N/A

Age: 19 yrs

Occupation: Student

Residence: Frisco, Texas

Performance Date: 1/18/2024


“Nah I don’t really believe in god. My parents when I grew up told me about The Hymn of Creation from this Hindu scripture. Basically I grew up thinking that nobody knows how the universe came into being and that the idea of one singular being God is like, not as realistic as you would think. I mean the concept wasn’t drilled into my head at all or anything like that so that specific Hindu based ideal never really crossed my mind again but it did form my idea of God and creation.”


My informant, PL, is a friend of mine from my freshman year at USC from Frisco, Texas. I talked with him and a bunch of my friends about our beliefs in God after one of us asked that question randomly during a 2am walk outside of campus. We all gave our answers and PL gave his, saying he doesn’t believe anymore but did. I asked him to elaborate on this later in time and that is what he said.


In my research I found that this creation Myth is well known in Hindu culture. The Hymn of Creation is from the Rig Veda: the oldest and most sacred Hindu scripture, which concludes that, as PL said, nobody knows how the universe came into being, and even questions whether anyone or thing could know. This ideal was founded in between 1500 and 1000 BCE and explained that the God Indra, in particular, is the creator of This world. Scriptures say that “He separated heaven and earth, made them two … The act of creative violation and the power of keeping apart the pair so that they become Father Heaven and Mother Earth … is the test by which a creator god establishes his supremacy. … He is hero and artist in one.” It is concerned with cosmology and the origin of the world but not fully the universe. This well known Hindu creation story was seemingly passed down through generations is PL’s family, which is well versed in Hindu culture. I personally don’t know what to believe myself, but this creation story is one I’ve never heard of, and sounds very intricate and massive in Hindu mythology. 

The Ever-Celebrated Victory of Good Over Evil

The Interviewer will be referred to as ‘I’, and the informant as ‘M’. Translations for Hindi words will be italicised and in parentheses. The Informant is a 65-year-old Punjabi woman, born and raised in Gujarat.

I: Many people have heard about Holi, but don’t know the story behind it. Could you share this story? 

M: So, Holi, an ancient Hindu festival, actually means burning, and is derived from the name Holika. Holika was believed to be a person, the sister of the demon king Hiranyakashyap, who wanted to avenge his brother’s death at the hands of Lord Vishnu (the preserver, protection). So, he did intense penance and appeased Lord Brahma (the creator of the universe, knowledge), who finally gave him a boon that made him (virtually) indestructible. What happened afterwards is predictable, because… he became arrogant, he started thinking he was god, and told everyone to worship him as if he was. His wife was scared, but Brahma’s son (Narasimha, who later does kill Hiranyakashyap) told her to confine herself and worship Lord Vishnu, who would keep her safe. Then, her son was born, Prahlad, and he was very devoted to Vishnu… and—and no matter how hard he tried, Hiranyakashyap couldn’t kill him—he refused to worship Hiranyakashyap as god—even though he thought he was near all-powerful because of his gift, right? So, he went mad with rage and then decided to take his sister’s help to burn his son alive in a fire—this sister being Holika. She also had a boon that made her immune to fire, so she could hold him within the fire, but he prayed to Vishnu, who called—who summoned wind that blew the shawl from Holika onto him—oh, the shawl was what made her immune to fire, it was only if she wore that. This is why Holika was burned alive, and Prahlad survived. Hiranyakashyap was obviously angry, thinking of more tricks to kill his son, but that’s another story. Basically, the day Holika burned started being celebrated as ‘Holika Dahan’, the victory of good over evil, light over darkness. 

I: Thank you! And when it comes to the celebration itself, the festival, what is generally carried out, other than the colours? 

M: People gather around—in a circle, around a pyre-looking thing, essentially signifying Holika, and they burn this as almost a cleansing ritual. You take all the flammable things you have, old things, trash, wood, anything that you want to get rid of, for a new beginning. After this is burned, people take these ashes, along with, I believe, some sandalwood and leaves, and put them on their head to promote health. On the next day, there’s the festival of colours—that’s what Holi is usually thought of… associated with, more widely. The play with colours is thought to enhance health, body and mind, and you also clean your houses to allow positive energy to flow into the home environment and get rid of bad things, like insects. It also has a big significance because… people come together, you see, it strengthens their bond when they play during this festival. This can turn enemies into friends, removes any differences between people, you give gifts to your family and friends, and you put colour on… nearly everyone you see around you. We also have this drink called Bhaang, which the adults usually drink during this celebration, it is a derivative of grass (Cannabis)… It’s celebrated before the summer and after the winter, so people are feeling lazy and tired, so at this time, Holi brings a lot of activities and happiness, new starts. People feel much better. It also brings in the spring!

I: Is the story of Holika the only origin of Holi? Because I’ve noticed that the Holika Dahan festival is more prominent in the North, not as much so in Mumbai.

M: There are many stories, relating to Holi being celebrated within Hindu stories. There’s one about Radha and Krishna and their love, their divine love… another one from the South has to do with Shiva saving the world… I’m not as familiar with those, if I’m being fully honest, but it is celebrated and thought of very differently in different states, but it’s always a festival of colours and happiness, of fun. 


There is a lot that comes with Holi, the favourite festival of many, but it is known largely for its more familiar portion of the festival of colours. However, the story behind it is not as familiar to people, and neither is the ceremonial burning of Holika, at least outside of North India. Most Indian festivals celebrate the victory of light over darkness, good over evil, and Holi is no exception. Another such festival would be Diwali, the festival of lights, in celebration of Lord Rama’s defeat of Raavana. This story specifically, the one of Hiranyakashyap, Prahlad, and Holika, has a lot of mythological significance due to its divine characters (Hinduism is polytheistic): Brahma, the creator of the universe, and Vishnu, its preserver, two out of the Trimurti of principal Hindu deities (the third is Shiva, the destroyer, also part of the continuation of this seemingly never-ending epic story). This continued emphasis on the victory of good over evil says a lot about the values that ancient conceptions of Hinduism and its traditions are built upon: the belief that good will always win, and light will always prosper, even after the darkest times. Simultaneously, the way these celebrations are conducted, the traditions and rituals within them have a lot to do with colours and light, but primarily with a coming-together of the community, where people find joy and love in each other, no matter what, and have fun. The coming of spring is also a widely celebrated thing across the world, and this celebration usually falls sometime in March, around the time the Springtime comes in, in the states that do experience it!

Ganesh Origin


The informant – RB – is a middle-aged Hindu woman, originally from West Bengal, India. She now works as a nutritionist in South Florida, and is one of my mother’s closest friends. The following happened during a conversation in which I asked her to tell me about some of her favorite Indian folklore.


I’ll tell you a little story about Ganesh. His mother was taking a bath and she told him that, “You know what, I’m taking a bath, don’t let anybody come in here, because I don’t want anybody to come in.”

In the meantime, his father, Shiva, comes to visit, and Ganesh says, “You can’t come in,” because, apparently, he’s never seen his father before.

His father, also a god, says “Of course I can go in, that’s my house.”

And Ganesh said, “No, you cannot go in! My mom said I’m supposed to be guarding the door and I won’t let you in.” The father gets very upset and looks at Ganesh with so much anger, that his head falls off his shoulder.
The mother comes out and sees what’s happened, and is like, “Why did you just do that to our little boy?”

So by that time, his anger has kind of subsided, and he’s like, “Oh my god, we can’t have him without a head. We have to find a new head!” So apparently, he sends people all over the world, saying, “Go find me the first living creature who’s sleeping with its head facing the East. Cut off its head and bring it to me.” So everybody goes everywhere and can’t find someone, because, apparently in India you can’t sleep with your head towards the East, since the sun rises in the East. They go all over the world, and they find this elephant. So what they do is, they cut off its head and they bring it.

And the mother goes, “What the heck! I can’t put that head on my little baby!”

The father says, “Well, I can’t change the rule, I said the first living being with its head facing the East,” so he puts the head on the child, and the child is alive.

The mother goes, “No one is going to worship him! Everyone will make fun of him! Nobody is going to respect him.” So now it is written that, before any prayer or any celebration, – anything – you have to first pray to Ganesh before you can do any official celebration. So now in every part of India, before prayer, or any celebration – a wedding, anything – you must first pray to Ganesh. Ganesh is also the God of removing obstacles, so he’s become a very popular symbol. I have a Ganesh in my house; I think your mom has a Ganesh in your house, too.



I was raised around a lot of Indian/Hindu culture, so I’d, of course, heard of Ganesh, but it was really fun to learn the creation myth of Ganesh himself. I’ve heard and read much less detailed versions of this same story, but it was really fascinating to hear this version from someone who is an active participant in the Hindu religion/culture. From some brief research, it seems that there are variations in which Ganesh’s head is physically cut off, and some stories omit the detail about the requirement for the head facing East.