The Sword in the Stone and Shiva’s Bow

Howard Pyle’s The Story of King Arthur and His Knights (which I’ve been reading lately and which is one of the three Arthur/Merlin books on my TBR pile) starts with the famous Sword in the Stone tale—or Arthur proving his claim to the throne by pulling out the sword from the Anvil and fulfilling Merlin’s prophecy about finding the true king. Before he appears to do so, many a King and Duke try to demonstrate their might and power by trying to draw the sword, but of course to no avail leading them to allege, that “may we understand but that the enchanter Merlin hath set forth this adventure to bring shame and discredit upon all of us who are here…”

Reading about Merlin’s test to find the true king, and how things turned out, I couldn’t help but think of another such situation but in Indian mythology—more specifically the Ramayana and Sita’s swayamwar where again a test is set—of picking up and stringing Shiva’s bow—which only the right groom for Sita would be able to do. And more surprisingly similar was what I’d just noticed in a TV adaptation which I’ve been watching—the Kings invited to the swayamwar and failing to lift the bow, make the exact same accusation against Janak—that no one could lift Shiva’s bow and he had only called them there to insult them.

The stories of the tests are not the only such instances. I remember reading somewhere, though I can’t remember exactly, a story from Indian mythology similar to that of Noah and his ark (online there is a discussion here: As this article notes, like Noah, Manu is forewarned of a flood, and told to build a boat and fill it with animals. Interestingly even the names of Noah’s and Manu’s children are remarkably similar sounding—Charma, Sharma, and Yapeti/Ham, Shem, and Japheth, respectively. As Wikipedia also helpfully tells us, flood myths are not restricted to these alone but found in many different cultures (, including Greek and Norse mythology, Maya lore, and the Epic of Gilgamesh.

These similarities led me to wonder how it is that there are similar tales and legend in such different cultures. Is it that human beings are, despite various differences, essentially similar and thus the similar stories or could there be that there is something more, something shared in the past, that leads to these stories being found in different places, passed down in different forms?

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