Hinduism – Stories & Their significance – an introduction…
Around the world, teaching morals through stories to children has been the practice across cultures. The love for hearing stories is very much strong in grownup people too.
While a philosophical or moral discourse can be dry and boring, the same when conveyed discretely through stories, people listen them eagerly with interest and the truths sink into their minds better and easier.
That’s how the stories of Ramayana and Mahabharata (the two epics called Itihasas) and the various Puranas about Gods and Avatars are read and reread by majority of religiously and spiritually inclined Hindus from time immemorial . Even in the olden days when there were no printed books, these stories were propagated by Pouranikas (Pundits who are well versed in orally explaining Puranas – divine stories) in public gatherings.
Both Ramayana and Mahabharata, other than the main stories, contain hundreds of other side stories (called upa kathas). All Puranas too contain many stories about Gods, great kings, saints, sages, common people and also animals. Ithasas and puranas convey dharmas and moral guidelines, explanations and insight into scriptural philosophies etc overtly and covertly.
Even Upanishads contain stories
The Upanishads (or Vedanta) are indeed the core philosophical scriptures containing the highest and ultimate spiritual wisdom of Hinduism. Even such serious piece of scriptures do contain several stories (some in the form of metaphors too) which shows the effectiveness of stories in conveying even the most complicated truths in a smooth manner.
Stories told by Mahatmas and saints
Great saints and sages of Hinduism of the recent past (like Sri Ramakrishna Paramahamsa, Bhagwan Ramana Maharshi, Swami Shivananda, Sri Satya Saibaba, and lately Mata Amritanandamayi) are quite adept in telling very apt stories (some of them quite humorous too) to beautifully convey spiritual insight in the simplest way.
Sri Ramakrishna Paramahamsa’s little stories are extremely popular and oft quoted ones by other spiritual teachers. Mata Amritanandamayi (Amma) is a storehouse of stories; each of her public satsangs are normally studded with three to four stories.