Hindu Mythology is the mythology of both Ancient and Modern India, used as moral allegory to convey spiritual truths. There are as many myths originating from Hinduism as there are people, so it is impossible to describe every single one.
Vedic Gods—the Devas—tend to be nature deities. There are strong parallels among the Vedic gods to the gods of Classical, Celtic, and Norse Mythology, as the ancient Greeks, Romans, Celts, and ancient Germans shared a common ancestral mythology with the ancient Aryans of the Vedic Age. Indra is the leader of the Gods, and he controls lightning (he's considered to be roughly equivalent to Zeus/Jupiter and Thor). Varuna controls water (equivalent to Ouranos/Uranus and the Norse Ullr), Agni controls fire, Vayu controls the wind, and Surya is the god of the Sun (equivalent to the Classical Helios/Sol—whose attributes were later appropriated by Apollo—and the Norse/Germanic personification of the Sun, Sól).
The Vedic Gods live in Heaven and continuously fight the Asuras, their evil cousins, to prevent them from obtaining immortality or dominance.note All these also have fascinating common etymological connections to stuff further west. The evil Asuras are equivalent to the good Ahuras of Zoroastrianism, while the Daevas are evil in the latter; this may or may not have inspired Friedrich Nietzsche's thinking about the origins of good and evil. The Asuras are also equivalent to the major grouping of gods in Norse myth, the Aesir, who also fought gods—the Vanir—but eventually reconciled with and incorporated their rivals. They tend to be considered subservient to the Hindu Trinity.
The Hindu Trinity is post-Vedic—and thus has few cognates abroad—and consists of Brahma the Creator, Vishnu the Preserver, and Shiva the Destroyer. Brahma is rarely worshiped in comparison to Vishnu and Shiva, but is still considered equal within the Trinity. Vishnu is mostly known for his 10 (two competing lists of ten gives eleven due to Balarama verssus Buddha and the Bhagavata Purana lists 26 avatars) Avatars and Shiva is known for his unorthodoxy, fierce anger, and fierce forgiveness. Vishnu is married to the goddess Laxmi, the Goddess of Wealth and Prosperity; Shiva is married to the goddess Parvati, the Goddess of Strength and Courage; and Brahma married to Saraswathi, Goddess of Wisdom and Knowledge.
Other important deities include Kali (a berserk form of Durga/Parvati), and Kanon. Maya is the embodiment of the illusory power of Vishnu that makes one forget his or her true unity with the Universal soul and become immersed in day-to-day life.
Major Hindu sacred texts include the Mahabharata, Bhagavad Gita, Ramayana, and Upanishads. The above are Older Than Feudalism, but the four Vedasnote The Rig Veda, Yajur Veda, Sama Veda, and Atharva Veda are Older Than Dirt, and the Puranas are only Older Than Print.
The Ace: Krishna. Whether it comes to war, statesmanship, love, philosophy, or religion, Krishna is peerless. Yes, he is an avatar of one of the Hindu pantheon's most active gods, but even among the avatars, he is pretty awesome.
Achilles' Heel: Duryodhana had his thighs, and Ravana had his heart. Every demon will have a weak spot. Every single one.
To be clear, Duryodhana, although a tremendous asshole, was not a demon, but just a man. His thighs were unprotected by armour.
Interestingly enough, Durvasa, the Hot-Blooded Sage, blessed the Krishna with partial immortality except for his heel. Krishna dies because a hunter shot his heel, mistaking it for a deer/parrot (depending on the version you hear).
Achilles in His Tent: In the Mahabharata, Karna walks out of the war because he did not respect Bhishma enough. Bhishma's impending death changed his mind.
Angry Dance: Shiva, when he gets angry, dances a dance called "Rudra Tandava" that can annihilate everything. The universe is described in Saivism (a branch of Hinduism) to be like a creation of the dance of God.
Annoying Arrows: Archery was loved in the ancient world. Almost every single epic has one transformational weapon. The Brahmastra, a weapon that is described in a manner reminiscent of a modern nuclear weapon, is always proven useless through some contrived mechanism.
Probably because a Brahmastra had the power to either obliterate a really powerful creature, or take out a solid chunk of the universe. You don't deploy a weapon like that without some seriously good failsafes...
Anything That Moves: Indra falls in love with anyone who is remotely pretty. This role is later taken over by human kings, who keep falling in love with heavenly apsaras, lowly fisherwomen, and everyone in between.
Apocalypse How: The job of the last avatar of Vishnu, Kalki, is to end mankind because they have turned so evil. Details in the Puranas.
Arch-Enemy: There are at least three versions of Vritra, depict it with different origin. All versions were killed by Indra.
Attempted Rape: Attempted rape, especially of a virginal woman, is punished severely. See the story of Vedavati.
Ax-Crazy: Kali isn't called another name for death for being a paragon of self-control (although to be fair, she only focuses said craziness on the truly wicked). The only time she exists is when Durga loses her composure completely. Subverted when Kali is worshipped as "Ma Kali", or the Mother. She is viewed as the Universe and the consciousness of the Universe itself, destructive and nurturing in turn.
Bad Ass: Shiva, Vishnu and his Avatars, and Durga/Kali. Also the Winged Humanoid Garuda. In the process of stealing Amrita, he managed to kick most of the god's asses, and even Vishnu only managed to fight him to a draw. And he did it before gaining godhood.
Be Careful What You Wish For: Applies to every single person in the universe, though mostly applicable if you happen to be an Evil Overlord/Demon/Tyrant trying to use your wish for evil. A loophole is always found to break your immortality, and it never turns out well for anyone, especially you.
One hilarious example is with Kumbakarna, who after a major yagna and penance, wanted to ask Brahma for Nithyatvam meaning immortality. He ended up asking for Nitratvam meaning the state of sleep, due to Goddess Saraswati messing with his tongue.
Though subverted in some tales, like the story of Satyavati who told Yama, the God of Death, that she wished to be happy. Since she is a married woman and her husband just died, the God of Death had no choice but to revive her husband, because she can only be happy with her husband alive. But then again, she is pretty clever and good.
Another version of the story says that she wished to have sons, so Yama had to bring her husband back to life so that she could have the sons. (A note: woman during the time period the story was written was not permitted to remarry after her husband's death.)
Because Destiny Says So: Subverted with Markandeya, a boy who was fated to die at eight, but whose devotion moved God to step death aside.
Subverted with Satyavati as well.
Bed Trick: Devyani tries to pull this on Yayati. He proceeds to cheat on her almost immediately after marriage.
The Berserker: Gods go berserk easily, especially if you torture their devotees, especially if they happen to be little children with big hearts. Do not, under any circumstances, torture anyone under the age of 11.
See Narsimha (half-man, half-lion), Mahishasuramardini (aka Kali).
Body Horror: When Indra assaults a sage's wife, the sage is so angry that he curses Indra to have a thousand vaginas, since he seemed to love them so much. Other devas come to beg the sage to lift this curse, since Indra is their chief. He refuses to lift the curse, but agrees to change it so that Indra has thousand eyes instead.
Also, in earlier myths, Indra was credited to have a thousand testicles.
Bunny-Ears Lawyer: With his habit of going to cremation grounds to meditate, and turning up afterward wearing ash and snakes and little else, Shiva can come across this way, a fact he himself lampshades when trying (in disguise) to discourage Parvati from marrying him.
Cain and Abel: Vibheeshna and Ravana in the Ramayana. Sugreva and Vali in the Ramayana. Arjuna and Karna in the Mahabharata. The Kauravas and the Pandavas in the Mahabharata.
Cosmic Egg: The Rig Veda and certain Puranas use this to describe the universe in its early stages
Curse: Among other things, Ahalya's adultery with Indra resulted in her being turned into a small stone (as opposed to "turned to stone"). She is forgiven and changes back to her natural shape when Rama in the Ramayana steps on her by chance.
Dark Is Not Evil: Yama, the God of the Underworld, is not evil, but a benevolent guy just doing his job. Shiva, though he can get angry, is usually calm, reasonable, and peaceful, though he is the God of Destruction. Kali is NOT evil. She is a "berserk" form of Durga reserved for only the wickedest of the wicked. Terrible imagery and power do not evil make.
Death by Sex: Pandu. The previous king, Vichitravirya, also dies because of this.
Did We Just Have Tea with Cthulhu??: Ananta Shesha (or Aadi Sesha), lord of all Nagas, is a gigantic serpent with a thousand heads. It can hold all the planets on its hoods. It's also one of the few beings that will remain after the destruction of the universe. While that sounds like a fearsome Eldritch Abomination, Shesha is a good deity. Shesha prefers to sing and praise the glories of Vishnu, who sleeps on its back, rather than cause destruction.
Divine Date: Indra, as well as Krishna with the milkmaids.
Doppelgänger: Surya's wife, Saranyu creates a copy of her own self, Chhaya (or literally Shadow) to stay with Surya while she nurses her wounds.
Driven to Suicide: Sati, and later Madri, who kill themselves for insults to or the death of their husbands.
Even the Guys Want Him: Almost all the gods tend to be Bishōnen. One example of this would be Krishna, whose appearance changed the etymology of his name, which meant "black" or "dark," to "attractive".
When reincarnated as Rama, Vishnu rescued some sages from a demon. The sages became sick with longing for Rama's beauty, so Vishnu promised he would return to them in another reincarnation (Krishna), and that the sages would be reincarnated as cowherdesses who would make endless love with him.
One version of the myth of Shiva falling for Vishnu's female avatar, Mohini (mentioned below), has Mohini transform back into Vishnu when he/she is having sex with Shiva. This does not stop them from continuing.
Gender Bender: Vishnu who becomes a very attractive and very female Mohini to either trick demons from the nectar of immortality or work out a prophecy to trick demons. One myth also has Shiva falling madly in lust with Mohini, and they have a child together.
In fact, this is a predominant theme in Hinduism; most deities have opposite gender forms. Vishnu has Vaishnavi alongside Mohini; Brahma has Brahmi; Shiva (also known as Maheshvara) has Maheshvari.
Getting Crap Past the Radar: Hindus interpret Krishna's act of playing his magic flute to get wives to leave their husband's beds and dance with him in the moonlight, as a metaphor of man leaving behind all earthly possessions to commune with God. Sure...
Gilded Cage: When Sita is kidnapped by King Ravana, he holds her in the palace of Lanka for an entire year.
Along with the seven sages as well as all the grain and foods in the world.
Grand Theft Me: Yayati, after the curse of his father-in-law that he should become old and infirm, asked his sons to exchange their youthful body with his. All refused except the youngest son, Puru, who was crowned after his reign. Puru was the ancestor of the Kauravas and the Pandavas in the Mahabharata. His brother Yadu was the ancestor of the Yadavas - thus the ancestor of Krishna.
Götterdämmerung: Hinduism states that there are four cyclical eras - Satya, Treta, Dwapara, and Kali. Satya Yuga is considered the best era, with most people oriented towards goodness and moral. Treta Yuga sees the majority of mankind being good, but also a substantial increase in evil people. Dwapara Yuga sees most people in shades of grey, with very few good men. Kali is considered the wickedest age, when faithlessness and desire reigns. We are currently in the Kali Yuga.
It should also be noted that two different Kalis-one is the Dark Is Not Evil goddess mentioned above, and another is a male demon whose death will herald the end of the age and rebirth into the Satya Yuga(the goddess is pronounced kaali and the demon is pronounced kali).
Hijacked by Jesus: Or rather by Buddha. Much of Buddhism's cosmology is modified from Hindu's.
The buddhism myth state that Indra is merely a title for the deva chief. Mara was the previous Jerkass God Indra, and his steed elephant has become demonic Girimehkala. While the current Indra, Sakra, is paragon of virtue.
The Hindu hijack back, claim that Buddha himself is Vishnu's avatar.
Honor Before Reason: Most of Karna's adulthood problems can be blamed on the fact that he swore allegiance to a guy who turned out to be with the bad guys, and Karna refused to go back on his word.
Well, when you consider the fact that that guy was also the only prince who was willing to become friends with him and speak out for his talents despite his social status, it does kinda make sense.
Vishwamitra could have easily been a Brahmarishi much sooner than he did if he were not so hotblooded.
I Have Many Names: Several gods have been known to have over a thousand names. The ones with sahasranamas (lit. thousand names) have books that lit. list their thousand or more names, i.e. Vishnu, Shiva, Ganesha, Lalita, etc.
It Was a Gift: Arjuna is gifted a lot of weapons by Indra and Shiva.
Jerk Ass: The short-tempered sage Durvasa had a habit of going around and cursing people who he thought disrespected him even if it was not disrespect or they had good reason. People either went out of their way to avoid him, get him to leave as quickly as possible, or beg the supreme being of the story for aid. One or twice it came back to bite him.
Lawful Stupid: Daksha hated his son-in-law, Shiva, for living a rather chaotic lifestyle. Shiva didn't mind that until his wife, Sati, committed suicide in grief of her father defiling and mocking her beloved. Shiva was infuriated; he later killed Daksha, then revived him, with a goat's head as punishment. In his humility and repentance for his graceless and sinful acts, Daksha became one of Shiva's most devoted attendants.
Surya, the Sun God. In addition to typical good deed of giving light to the world, he's also The Mentor to Hanuman.
The sisters, Usha (Dawn) and Ratri (Nightnote even if she's personification of night, she isn't the darkness, she's the stars), share a duty of protecting people from danger of the night. At night, Ratri give rest to people while keep demons at bay, until her sister wake mankind up and driving demons away.
Although Shiva is known as the Destroyer, he is pretty much considered to be the god of light, his essence being the Parakasa, the divine light from which the tattvas were created, and being associated with both the Sun and the Moon (depending on who you ask, Agni, Surya and Chandra are all aspects of him as light bearers). That said, Light Is Not Good sometimes ensues thanks to his role as the Destroyer.
Liminal Being: One of Vishnu's avatars was a half-lion, half-man being, to deal with a demon that could not be defeated by man or beast or god.
Loads and Loads of Characters: Some estimate put the total number of gods at 300 million. Of course, only a relatively small fraction of that number is widely known.
Love Goddess: Lakshmi. It's worth to note that she's also associate with fortune, wealth and wisdom. In other words, she's what you got when combine the good parts of Aphrodite, Hera and Athena into single goddess.
My Dad Can Beat Up Your Dad: Devayani, the daughter of the chief mentor of the Asuras and Sharmishta, the daughter of the King of the Asuras, had a fight about whose dad is more powerful. This fight had more consequences than most: Devayani was abandoned in a well as a result, and she sought her revenge by complaining to her father that she would not be appeased until Sharmishta becomes her maid. This, like so many of her schemes, backfires when her husband Yayati cheats on her and has three sons with Sharmishta.
No Good Deed Goes Unpunished: Devayani begged her father, Shukracharya, the mentor of the Asuras, to teach his pupil and son of his great adversary in the side of the Gods, Kacha, how to revive one's life after death so that he can return to life after his gruesome death at the hands of the Asuras. She did this because she loved him. He thanks her by leaving almost immediately with the mantra to the gods and saying that they are Like Brother and Sister now.
In the Mahabharata, Jayadatta tried to carry away Draupadi in a chariot, was stopped by the Pandavas who spared his life because he married their cousin's sister Dushala. He proceeds to be instrumental in the death of Arjuna's teenage son, Abhimanyu.
Karna is supposed to have learned his skills from Parasurama, a teacher who only took in brahmin pupils and despised kshatriyas. Karna as a pupil disguised himself as a brahmin. Parasurama took a nap on Karna's lap when a bee stung Karna's leg. He did not stir or move, even though he was bleeding and was in great pain. Parasurama woke up, and instead of thanking his diligent pupil, cursed Karna for deceiving him, suspecting him of kshatriya ancestry (he figured that a courageous man cannot be brahmin).
Krishna is supposed to be older than fifty at the start of the Kurushetra War. He looks perpetually 20.
One Steve Limit: Usually not much of a problem, since individuals or places with the same name tend serve pretty much the same purpose. Tripurasura the demon fortress that doubled as three cities or Tripurasura the monster whom only Shiva could destroy? The name is bad news either way. Some cases, such as the demon named Kali (they're spelled and pronounced differently in Sanskrit, but transliterated the same so the difference is really semantic in this context), probably do not help the goddess' reputation in regards to how she's viewed by pop culture however.
Original Man: Ayyavazhi tradition gives us Kali, father of this evil age. He is not the progenitor of human kind but is an older creature that happens to be similar to us. Other traditions just make him Rakshasa (people eater) or some other variety of demon/asura.
Overshadowed by Awesome: Brahma may be the creator god, but he has the least followers, compared to Vishnu and Shiva.
Petting Zoo People: Ganesha, who has the head of an elephant (reasons for this vary across stories).
Primordial Chaos: In fact, the gods even intentionally fished there once, just to see what they could pull out of it. And collected an impressive pile of weird things, some more useful than others. No boots, though.
Prophecy Twist: An interesting variant which shows up frequently involves a character being granted some magical ability by the gods (interestingly, even villains like Ravana seem to receive divine gifts) which appears to make them unbeatable, and their enemies having to find a way to cheat that power. Some examples:
Daitya King Hiranyakashyap wished that he would neither die during day or night, outside or inside, neither by celestial or human or by any weapon made under the sun. He dies due to the avatar Narsimha, who appears during twilight, on the steps of a house (which is neither inside nor outside), who is half-animal and half-man, and who uses his nails to tear open his stomach.
Another villain had wished that any foe who appeared before him would lose half their strength, and he would gain the same amount. He was defeated, simply enough, when Rama shot him in the back from tree cover. The villain managed to deliver a decent What the Hell, Hero? speech, but died anyway.
Self-Made Orphan: One myth on origin of Kamadeva (equivalent to Eros) has him test his magical bow on his father. This caused the man to fall in love with his own daughter; he doesn't give in to the desire, yet the squick thought keeps tormenting him and eventually makes him commit suicide.
Snakes Are Evil: Played with. If some random Naga appear in a story, then expect them them to be evil. But prominent Nagas like Shesa and Vasuki are good.
Spell My Name With An Ś: There are tons of different ways to spell all the names you see here in English. Even beyond that, everyone has several alternate names that all have their own spelling issues. It can be quite confusing at times.
It also Lampshades the fact that Indian society has changed its values after being under both Islamic and British control. Outfits that had been acceptable for millennia are now taboo. Also, saris were topless before Islamic control (Sexy Backless Outfit and Bare Your Midriff), until British control.
Ancient Tamil poetry, such as the Silappadhikaram and the Sanskrit work, Kadambari by Banabhatta, describes women in exquisite drapery or sari. The ancient stone inscription from Gangaikonda Cholapuram in old Tamil scripts has a reference to hand weaving. In ancient Indian tradition and the Natya Shastra (an ancient Indian treatise describing ancient dance and costumes), the navel of the Supreme Being is considered to be the source of life and creativity, hence the midriff is to be left bare by the sari. Unfortunate Implications given that the texts imply that not going Bare Your Midriff is potentially blasphemy. In South India and especially in Kerala and Tamil Nadu, it is indeed documented that women from many communities wore only the sari and exposed the upper part of the body till the early days of the 20th century. Poetic references from works like Silappadikaram indicate that during the Sangam period in ancient Tamil Nadu, a single piece of clothing served as both lower garment and head covering, leaving the breasts and midriff completely uncovered. In Kerala there are many references to women being bare-breasted, including many paintings by Raja Ravi Varma.
Tripura Sundari (Lalita is one letter away from Lolita Meaningful Name if you understand Sanskrit). Numerous other examples also provided by Wikipedia.
Taking the Bullet: When the Devas and Asuras churn the sea in order to obtain Amrita (the nectar of immortality), they use a naga (serpent) called Vasuki as the churning rope. The strain causes Vasuki to exhale Halahala (literally, "the most vicious and venomous poison") capable of killing all life. To save the world, Shiva swallows the Halahala himself, and it burns his throat blue.
He does it again when his consort Kali finally kills the demon Raktabija and dances on the field of battle. Each step of her joyous dance causes a terrible earthquake. Shiva is aware this might cause an Earth-Shattering Kaboom, so he shields the earth with his body. This causes Kali to stop her victory dance, as she realizes that she's stomping on her husband.
Time Abyss: Reality is said to last for as long as Brahma's lifetime. Brahma will live to be a hundred years old, except one day in the life of Brahma is four billion, three hundred and twenty million human years. The true end of reality will come about when Brahma dies at the end of 311 trillion human years. We've got a while to go, then.
However, it is said that the world as we know it ends and is renewed at midnight, Brahma's time. True reality shatters with Brahma's expiry.