Tuesday, January 7, 2020

OMG: Indian Mythos

One Man's God: Indian Mythos

It's 2020 and welcome back to my series One Man's God (OMG).  I look at the various gods, monsters and everything in between and see how well they could (or would or would not) fit into the AD&D 1st Monster Manual as demons.

Before I jump back in a few introductory notes.
I use the word "demon" a lot.  By this I don't usually mean the Christian meaning of the term, but rather the much more generic meaning as a usually evil spiritual creature.  This is important here since I am going to jump feet first into the Indian myths and they have a lot of demons, and many are called demons too.

I am also limiting myself to AD&D 1st edition here.  While I do draw from other editions and games, it is AD&D 1st ed I am most interested in.   How do these creatures and monsters fit the AD&D (not Earth's) cosmology?



So in preparation for this, I grabbed my copy of the Ramayana to help me out.  Though the focus here is not on the myths and stories themselves but rather on how the Deities & Demigods presents them.

It would be difficult, if not impossible, to collect all the myths and stories of India collate them, sort them and then put them into a gamebook and have them make sense.  Indian myths, like and maybe more so than other mythologies in the D&DG, are far too dense and scattered over time to fit the needs of a book publisher with a handful of pages to spare.  So I am not going to fault the creative choices made by the authors and editors here.  The authors acknowledge this in their first sentence of text for these myths.   So the list of gods, goddesses and creatures here combine Hindu, Buddist, Shakta, Jainism, and other beliefs.  Much like India itself.

Indian mythology is ancient, with Hindu texts going back to at least 1500 BCE.  I remember reading the Rig Veda in college and the Ramayan a while back.  What struck me then and again now is how much color and vibrancy there is to these tales.  I could go on and on, but that is not focus here.

In the Indian Myths as presented in the D&DG there are many gods and goddesses that look monstrous but are not.  This will be a classic example of not judging someone by their looks.

Kali
Kali might be one of the more recognizable personas from the Indian mythos.  She gained notable status soon after the D&DG came out thanks to the Indiana Jones and Temple of Doom movie.  But Kali is much, much more complicated than that. Kali is needed and required in Hindu mythology she is the one who dances with Shiva to destroy and then rebuild, the world.  Here name means "Time" and thus is a complicated character. 
In the D&DG she is reduced to just a goddess that can instill fear in demons and devils. She should be more.

Rakshasa
The rakshasa from the MM (and every Monster Manual hereafter) is often described as a demon.  Throughout D&D's history they have been consistently Lawful Evil. They are featured in many of the ancient tales, and in the Ramayana in particular.  Originally I wanted to re-classify them as Chaotic Evil, but after rereading the Ramayana I think I'll stick with Lawful Evil, with some odd individuals as Lawful Neutral or even Lawful Good.  Even in some tales Shurpanakha, the demonic sister of Ravana, the rakshasa king of Lanka, becomes so good that her beauty comes back to her.

Vitra and Susna
Both of these creatures are described as "dragons", "serpents" or "snakes" and often as a demon of drought.  They are typically blocking rivers or damming up waters and Indra has to fight them.

In this case, he could be related to any number of world-threatening serpents such as Apep or even Azi-Dahaka.  I honestly could use the same stats for it as I did for Apep.  Or in his "human" form that of a Balor.



A bestiary of all the monsters and demons from India would fill their own book.  It would be a fun book too!

Though if I were to do such a thing I'd rather do it for Ghosts of Albion and set it in the early Victorian Age.

2 comments:

jdh417 said...

There's also an Indian version of the vampire called the Baital. Sort of. In the Vikram and the Vampire story, he's kind of more annoying than frighting.

Konsumterra said...

lots of mythic races were real people still oppressed today. Ravana has temples where he has good cultural skills but they still burn effigies to him to celebrate Rama imposing religion over various people. Nagas, devas, asuras not just supernatural peoples and consequences of this still prejudice people today. You get very different ideas of Hinduism from different peoples and some over represent their influence and dominance over history. Cast system is problematic too and was not applied consistently and you will hear wildly different views in India over cast and racism.

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