April 26, 2021

V is for Valhalla and Vaikuntha

         (My A-Z Blog Challenge theme this year is Mythical and Imaginary Places.  Be sure to check out the Master List for a plethora of other A to Z blogs with myriad other themes.)
        While we’re in the dark and frozen north, let’s have a look at Valhalla, the great hall of Asgard, home of the Norse gods.  I think you can tell a lot about gods by where they choose to live.  As befits a warlike culture, Asgard is fully fortified, and Valhalla is one big celebration of all warriors all the time.  It is a huge, magnificent hall, shining gold, with spear-shafts for rafters, shields for a roof, coats of mail strewn over its benches, and light provided by glowing swords.  Although I tend to picture it as one great dining hall, Valhalla actually has 540 rooms within it, including the apartment of Thor and his family.  Valhalla is chiefly inhabited by those slain honorably in battle, brought to Valhalla by the Valkyries, and permitted to spend the rest of eternity (or at least until Ragnarök) drinking mead and wine, feasting, playing games, and of course fighting, all while being served hand and foot by beautiful battlemaids.  This heavenly home was dreamed up by gods who knew what they liked, and what they liked was getting drunk and fighting.
        By contrast, Vaikuntha, the home of the Hindu gods Vishnu and Lakshmi, is full of gardens of fragrant fruit and flowers, singing birds and humming bees, as well as the golden palaces without which no home of gods seems to be complete.  The beautiful residents (both male and female) are peaceful and smiling, and travel about in aerial vehicles made of jewels, which is an excellent amenity.  To me, this sounds far more appealing altogether than Valhalla.
        Let’s look at some other homes of gods — with the caveat that as this is a survey post, I have done only superficial research on any of this!  I will also note that my theme is both imaginary and mythical places, so I am not saying that these places must be purely imaginary.  Although it is my belief that none of these places is literally, physically true, other people have different beliefs and it is not my intention here to state that they’re wrong.
        Many traditions place the homes of gods on the tops of mountains.  Mount Meru appears in the mythology of Buddhism, Hinduism, and Jainism, and is the center of the universe, as well as being the home of gods such as Sakra, ruler of heaven.  Many temples in India, Bali, Thailand, and more are shaped like mountains to symbolize the importance of Mount Meru.  In Manipuri mythology in the northeast of India, the God Lainingthou Koubru and Goddess Kounu live on Mount Koubru.  In Chinese mythology the Kunlun Mountain is the home of gods and goddesses including the Supreme Deity and Xi Wangmu the Queen Mother goddess, as well as other immortals and lots of interesting magical plants and animals.  It is also a pillar of the sky, and is associated with reaching immortality.  Ol Doinyo Lengai is a volcano in Tanzania, and its name means “Mountain of God” in the Maasai language, but I don’t have any information about its mythology.
        Olympus, the home of the Greek gods, is a bit vague.  It was originally seen as a physical mountain peak, but it is high enough to be above the clouds, and later seemed to be more heavenly.  There is certainly an implication of beauty and ambrosia, but few stories actually take place in Olympus.  Generally speaking, the Greek gods are out and about pursuing their various hobbies and vendettas, and mortals almost never come to Olympus, even after death.
        Mesopotamian and older Hebrew myths place their gods as living in Heaven, but also living physically in the temples dedicated to them on Earth.  The Mesopotamian Heaven was a dome made of stone, sandwiched between the dome of the stars below and the ultimate dome of the god of the sky above.  Unlike these Near Eastern views, early Christian myths began to describe Heaven in much more detail as the home of God and a whole array of different ranks of angels, and also, like Valhalla and Vaikuntha, as a place where the virtuous dead might live, as well.  It is often imagined as being
 up in the sky among the clouds, reached through a pearly gate.  Takamagahara
“High Plain of Heaven” in Japanese mythology is also located in the sky, a world of pure and radiant light.  It is connected to Earth by a floating bridge, which I think is a lovely concept.  (To be fair, Valhalla in Asgard is also connected to the mortal world by a rainbow bridge, which is possibly the only element of sweetness and light in all of Norse mythology.)
        Aztec mythology has no fewer than thirteen heavens, the highest of which is Ōmeyōcān, the home of the supreme Dual God, while Maori mythology generally also has multiple heavens in which various gods dwell in the different levels.  However, I have not seen any descriptions of what these heavens look like.
        It does seem extremely common that gods like to live in high places, either mountain-tops or right up in the sky.  They also very commonly like their bling: golden palaces, jewelled accessories, and the like.  Compared with the light and leisure of many gods’ homes, Valhalla seems rather dark, noisy, smelly, macho, and altogether not my scene.  Luckily, however, as I very much hope not to die in battle, I am unlikely to end up there.
        The MORAL of Valhalla:  One bonus of being a god is getting a home that caters to all your favorite things.
              OR:  If heaven is like a frat party, I don’t want to go.
        So, how would you like a job as architect and interior designer to the gods?  Do you have any fresh ideas you could suggest to Odin?

[Pictures: Heimdall at the gate of Valhalla, illustration from Icelandic Edda, 1680 (Image from handrit.is);

Walhalla design by Hermann Burghart for “Das Rheingold” by Richard Wagner, 1878 (Image from Wikimedia Commons);

Detail of Valhalla, illustration from Melsteds-Edda, 1765 (image from handrit.is);

Krishna unveils Vaikuntha to the Gopas, illustration from Bhagavata Purana, Pahari school, c 1775-1799 (Image from Scroll.in);

Vishnu outside his Vaikuntha Palace with the seven Kumaras, attributed to Ranjha at Chamba, c 1790-1800 (Image from Francesca Galloway);

Vaikuntha: The Abode of the Supreme God Vishnu, illustration from Bhagavata Purana, Rajasthan, mid 19th century (Image from eye burfi);

Mount Meru, illustration from Thai Buddhist manuscript, 1894 (Image from British Library);

Lamp Representing Kunlun the Realm of Xiwangmu, sculpture from Eastern Han dynasty, 1st-2nd century CE (Image from Yale University Art Gallery);
Olympus, illustration by Steele Savage from Mythology by Edith Hamilton, 1940;
Heavenly Host, wood engraving by Gustave Doré from Dante’s Paradiso, c 1868 (Image from Project Gutenberg);
Christ the Redeemer in Glory with the Heavenly Host, fresco by Niccolo Circignani in the Basilica Santi Giovanni e Paolo, Rome, 1588 (Image from Basilica SS Giovanni e Paolo);
Detail from The Assumption of the Virgin, painting by Francesco Botticini, c 1475-6 (Image from The National Gallery);
Izanami and Izanagi on the Floating Bridge of Heaven, woodblock print by Utagawa Hiroshige I, c 1849-50 (Image from Museum of Fine Arts);
Detail from Welcome… to Valhalla!!! panel from DC Action Comics #761, artists Garcia, Rubinstein, Whitmore, 2000 (Image from Random Thoughts).]


Lisa said...

I am certainly drawn to "gardens of fragrant fruit and flowers, singing birds and humming bees," much more than drinking and fighting! I love your line, "If heaven is like a frat party, I don't want to go." Perfect!

Kathe W. said...

oh my goodness- look at the work you put into your A to Z! Wow! Awesome!
Have a lovely day!

JadeLi said...

Most surely Vaikuntha is my kind of heaven. I would have no interest in being an architect for a heaven for the gods but I'd work doing maintenance landscaping in Vaikuntha.

My “V” song for the day:

Gail M Baugniet - Author said...

If I had my druthers, I'd choose Vaikuntha with its fragrant fruit, flowers, and singing birds. Although I did do some research on Walhalla museum while writing a fictional piece about Ludwig of Bavaria.

Weekends in Maine said...

Valhalla and Vaikuntha do seem to be polar opposites. I think I'd enjoy Vaikuntha more although I would love to meet Thor so might have to make a quick visit to Valhalla first. Weekends In Maine

Olga Godim said...

In my series of sci-fi short stories, one of the space stations in my universe is called Valhalla. It is the headquarters of the Federation Space Fleet.

Deborah Weber said...

Oh yeah, Vaikuntha is my kind of place. I wish I had access to one of those flying jewels right now so I could take a trip there.

Anne E.G. Nydam said...

Well, if the vote were up to readers of this blog, we'd certainly have a clear winner in the contest of Best Gods' Homes and Gardens!

Jade, that may be a very clever way indeed to get oneself into heaven!

Gail, I suspect that any version of Valhalla made by Ludwig would end up pretty luxurious.

Olga, Valhalla makes an excellent name for any sort of military headquarters, I think.

Deborah, I wouldn't turn up my nose at a ride in a magical jewelled aerial vehicle, either!

Sue Bursztynski said...

Vaikuntha does sound better, yes, and I certainly wouldn’t want to be a Valkyrie, rescuing warriors, then having to be a waitress for them all night!

The Garden of Eden would be my choice for the afterlife, but - wherever I went there would have to be a library and a place to write, perhaps off the library.

A Tarkabarka Hölgy said...

I'll take Xi Wangmu's gardens over Valhalla :D I hear the peaches are divine.

The Multicolored Diary

JazzFeathers said...

Well, I never thought about it, but yes, indeed where the gods live says a lot about the culture who believe in it.