Myth = Mithya Decoding Hindu Mythology by Devdutt Pattanaik
I have been reading Devdutt Pattanaik off and on. I interviewed him a long time back after his book Jaya came out. Myth = Mithya had been on my reading list for a while now. Almost a marathon author, Devdutt Pattanaik has become the interpreter of Indian Mythology for our times. His ability to make the myths, legends, and history relevant to current day and age make him unique. In the beginning, I felt the book is irrelevant for those who know the basics of Hindu Dharma. As they would know more than this, and irrelevant for those too who do not know as they would not understand the disjointed stories that author narrates. But it is towards the end that it starts making sense.
In this short volume, he briefly introduces the myths and then goes on to narrate the tales from Puranas and Upanishad’s. And of course, Ramayana and Mahabharata and somewhere attempting to brings a sense of belongingness to those tales. Devdutt Pattanaik divides the book into three parts that he calls The Circle of Brahma & Saraswati, The Square of Vishnu & Lakshmi and The Point of Shiva & Shakti. Various stories explore and substantiate the laws of nature in the cycle.
As I understood this section, the author emphasizes on continuous Karma which creates the cyclic nature of the universe. The web of life is nothing but our collective Karma coming together as part of a series of cause and effect. The author uses the techniques like flowcharts and tables to explain what he means. Like at a place he gives a table of Actions & Reactions. And basically what actions lead to debit or credit in your Karma account. A language that the reader of today can well relate to. He explains the masculine and feminine energies well when he says – Male forms of divine i.e. Brahma, Vishnu & Shiva are associated with verbs – creating, sustaining & destroying. While the female forms of Divine i.e. Saraswati, Lakshmi & Shakti are associated with nouns – Knowledge, Wealth & Power.
In the Square, he explains the cultural norms that exist as a square within the bounds of the circle above. I liked what he says in the beginning of this section. A square is most artificial of the shapes, and its different orientations represent different cultures. But eventually, it must exist within the laws of nature. This section explores the world that we know of – e.g.he says Pollution is a by-product of any manufacturing process. ‘Halahal’ is the by-product of all the good things that are churned out of the ocean during Sagar Manthan.
I liked his comparison of Ramayana and Mahabharata which explains how the former is about compliance. And the later about revolution. How Rama follows rules to the T and how Krishna breaks many rules and tries to create new ones. I hope some day Devdutt Pattanaik writes a full book comparing Ramayana and Mahabharata. On various aspects and how they depict the evolution of the human race on an axis of time.
In the last section on Shiva & Shakti who are represented by a dot, around which the universe and all other shapes are centered. The author explains the relationship between Shiva & Shakti. I loved this section of the book Myth = Mithya. He retells the mythological tales of Shiva, Sati, Parvati, Daksha, Ganesh & Karthik. Basically Shiva’s family and his relationship with Vishnu. The author talks about the Tapas – inner fire that gives Shiva his energy. He talks about Tantra and how it differs from the Vedic approach. There are many misconceptions about Tantra – it would take a lot more to dispel them. But at least Devdutt Pattanaik tries to put light on them in this section. He also explains differences between a Rishi and a Yogi through examples of Shiva & Daksha and why both of them are just following their own paths. And how Sat-Chit-Anand is what Shiva is looking for.
Read Myth = Mithya if ancient Indian stories and the meanings hidden within them interest you.