In my last two posts I have briefly touched upon Indian aesthetics in the form of eight rasas/emotions. These rasas, it is said, had a mythological origin; when Baharat muni saw Shiva dancing as Nataraja, he got inspired and created the ‘Natyashastra‘ which is the root of these eight rasas as well as many other parts of Indian art. Today’s post reviews a book by Devdutt Pattanaik titled ‘7 Secretes of Shiva’ which tries to get behind the symbolism and apparent contradictions which abound the mythology surrounding Shiva in Indian religion and folklore.
Regular readers of this blog will recall that I have linked earlier to a TEDTlak by Devdutt that talked about Logos and Mythos and how that may be related to Autism and Schizophrenia spectrum. Thus I have a long standing interest in Devdutt’s modern interpretation of Myths and that is the reason I review it here- though this blog has primarily been limited to strictly psychological/ neuroscience discussions.
The form of the book is very interesting and innovative. Each left hand page consists of solely photographs of Sculptures, paintings , calender arts related to Shiva, along-with a few illustrations, while the right hand pages are an ongoing narrative interpretation of various myths and stories associated with Shiva.
Devdutt makes a case for seeing Shiva as a form of Purusha (self aware enlightened consciousness/ imagination , mainly restricted to Humans) ) , while her consort Shakti to be seen as a form of Prakriti (or Nature) . The human head here symbolizes Purusha while the headless body symbolizes Prakriti. Brahma , or the creator of universe (Brahmand) according to Indian mythology, is conceived of as delude subjectivity that tries to see Prakriti not as is, but as it is conceived of in service of Humanity; the primary aim of Brahma or creator of subjective universe (brahmanda) is to control Nature, to see it in service of Humanity, to conceive of humans a superior to other animal species; and to create culture and cultural universes; while the Purusha is aware of his animal origins and has tamed them and hence Shiva also known as Pashu-pati (tamer of animal instincts) as opposed to Brahma which is Praja-pati (deriving meaning from control over others) .
Much to the chagrin of many a western mythologists/ scholars/ laymen, Braham who is deemed Creator of Universe is not deemed worship worthy (there are no temples (only a single temple) of Brahma and he is never worshiped) ; while Shiuva , who is apparently the deity of destruction , is widely worshiped by everyone. Devdutt resolves this tension , by proposing that Braham does not create Parkrati , he just misinterprets and subjectively constructs a world around him that one call as Maya. Shiva helps deconstruct (destroy) that Maya (delusion) and come to terms / perceive the Nature as it is .
Fundamental to Shiva’s image is an image of an ascetic, a counter-culturist, a hippie – if one may call him; that lives at the fringes of society, is neither aware of, nor bound to society/ cultures arbitrary rules and regulations, and prefers not to engage with the world. Shakti, her consort and his children Ganesha and Kartikeya make him engage with the world and make him empathetic to those who are less aware and enlightenment and need to overcome their fears to grow further.
Devdutt touches upon 2 basic fears that haunt every living being-especially those self aware like the Humans, – a fear of scarcity – not finding prey and a fear of death/ predation or becoming prey. He engages with the world in the form of his 2 children ecah of which solves this apparent contradiction and fear. Ganesha the pot-bellied lord , with elephants (elephants never fear scarcity or predation) head and both preadtor (sanke) and prey (rat) part of his parade, living in harmony , always hungry for more food, symbolizes that hunger is also subjective and hoarding is bad and we have created substitutes for food (like money) that are not really needed for satisfying basic needs. Kartikeya or Murugun, the warrior baby lord on the other hand symbolizes the courage to face fears of death etc to outgrow them at an early age-the six m=day baby knows no fear ( of death).
Of course being a work requiring interpretation of myths, it is bound to dissatisfy, raise heckles , of a few people; or may even affront them but I find his interpretation overall reasonable and well grounded. Its high time people stopped taking myths for face value , or just brush them aside as non sense, but start looking beyond the literal towards the metaphorical and the symbolic.
In as much as Devdutt may have aroused this tendency to look beyond the obvious while interpreting myths he woudl have succeeded in a good and worthy mission, no matter whether his particular interpretations be accurate or not.
full disclosure: I got a free review copy and am generally sympathetic to Devdutt’s interpretations.
Thanks to Vaughan, I spent a greater time of my day researching the ‘basic plots’ that are behind all good stories. Regular readers of this blog, would know that I am a sucker for ‘five basic’ or ‘eight basic’ anything (with a variation that ‘seven basic’ is also accommodated as, as per my theory the eighth basic may be on a different qualitative level and thus likely to be missed!
The original Mind Hacks post was regarding Levitin’s new book that claims that there are only six basic types of songs: Friendship, Joy, Comfort, Knowledge, Ceremony/religion/ritual and Love, but I strayed from the main course and started savoring the eight basic dramatic plots served by Dennis Johnson: Cinderella, Achilles, Faust, Tristan , Circe, Romeo&Juliet, Orpheus and the Irrepressible Hero (The FOOL anyone?) (all but the last named after famous characters). It wasn’t long before I was reading ‘The Seven Basic Plots’ by Christopher Booker.
The seven basic plots Booker outlines are : Overcoming the Monster, Rags to Riches, The Quest, Voyage & return, Comedy, Tragedy and Rebirth. while I’ll most probably write more on the topic after reading the whole book , I would like to comment now on the first plot: ‘Overcoming the Monster’ .
In this, typically a Hero is pitted against a monster, whom he slays to win a princess/ treasure / kingdom etc. While reading this plot, two famous Lord Krishna myths immediately flashed before me:
The first is the myth of how Satrjit’s Mani (pearl) came in possession of Jambvant and how Krishna fought and defeated Jambvant to defend himself from the false theft accusation of the pearl. Now this is no ‘traditional’ overcoming the monster myth as Jambvant is no monster- rather he is a revered chiranjivi being. Also, Jambvant is not killed, but gracefully withdraws from the fight after realizing the ‘god’ nature of Krishna. Howvere, like traditional ‘overcome the monster’ plot, there is treasure guarded and a princess (Jambvati , the daughter of Jambvant) married after the defeat. This time another princess (two marriages!) Satyabhama, who is the daughter of the King Satarjit, is also married to Krishna. Krishna, of course doesnt take the pearl (treasure) buts ends up with two wives! So some form of the plot is there, but not in its entirety. Also, the whole narrative is pre-ordained as Krishna saw moon during inauspicious time, so the take home is that there is no real evil or fight involved – it is all Maya or illusion!!
The second ‘overcoming the monster’ myth is again from Krishna myth. This time the monster is indeed really monstrous-a big, venomous serpent called Kaliya, and like traditional story the kingdom and the common people are troubled by this serpent; but in this case also no death of Kaliya is involved: he is just tamed and sent to a different place; also it seems Kaliya was there because of fear of Garuda, so again Kaliya per se is not ‘really ‘ evil and all is Maya.
I like this circularity and ‘fictional maya-like’ view of things of Indian culture very much and I am sure the other plots would also have been similarly adapted by Indians: circular and without any ‘real’ ‘evil’ lurking around.