Projecting Indian myths, culture, and history onto Tolkien’s worlds

— Sultana Raza, independent scholar

Paper given 3 July 2021 at Tolkien Society Summer Seminar 2021: Saturday session № 2

This paper will explore similarities between Indian culture and Tolkien’s worlds. Examples will include archetypes, such as the reluctant kings and stewards from the Ramayana, who can be compared to Aragorn and the Steward of Gondor. Also, animal helpers such as special horses, and Hanuman (the monkey god who could fly), and the Eagles of Middle-Earth. Special, magical herbs can be found in Ramayana too, like King’s foil in Lord of the Rings.

There are some parallels between the heroes of Mahabharat, (such as Abhimanyu) and the Fellowship. Can the wise, yet irascible Indian sages (Rishis) may have something in common with wizards such as Gandalf? In the Mahabharat, can Rishi Dronacharya’s later acts be compared to that of Saruman’s betrayal?

Philosophical parallels can be found between Indian myths and Tolkien’s sub-created worlds. Furthermore, there are resemblances between Sindarin, and Welsh. It should be noted that similarities between Sanskrit, and the Gaelic family as a whole are still being studied, as they are all part of the Indo-European branch of languages. Other Indian concepts and social/​familial structures can be discerned in Tolkien’s works as well.

Regarding history, there are a few uncanny parallels between the life of Noor Jahan (1577 – 1645, a Mughal empress), and her niece, Mumtaz Mahal (1593 – 1631, for whom the Taj Mahal was built), and the stories of Galadriel and Arwen. Like Lúthien, Noor Jahan was able to rescue her husband when he was held hostage by a traitor. Aragorn was able to unite various peoples of Middle-earth to fight evil. The Mughal emperor, Akbar (1542−1605) first conquered many of the smaller kingdoms, but by integrating them into his court, he was able to unite the different religious factions of his vast and stable empire. Therefore, one can easily find parallels between Indian myths, culture and history and Tolkien’s works.

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date recorded 📅2021-08-13
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