Posts tagged Devdutt Pattanaik

Epic Love Stories: a book review

taking oath, on abdicating his right to the th...

taking oath, on abdicating his right to the throne, in order to get the fisher girl married to his father . (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Although this blog is mainly about psychology, I have interests in mythology and have earlier reviewed Devdutt Pattanaik‘s ‘7 secrets of Shiva’, under the Blogadda’s book review program. So when an opportunity to review Epic Love Stories by Ashok Banker came under the same program, I could not resist myself. While Devdutt Pattanaik reinterprets myths in modern light and draws explicit analogies , Ashok Banker sticks to a retelling of the myth in its original spirit- and how beautifully.

Banker has come out with a set of five such short books in the epic love stories series- based around Mahabharata, and two of them were sent for me to review- they arrived today and as they were comparatively short and intriguing, I ended up the better part of my evening reading them and musing about the themes depicted.

The first book I read was the one story I was already sort-of familiar with- that of Bhishma and Amba (a love story that was never meant to be). It s a simple tale of abduction by Bhishma of three princesses from a swyamwara, so that he can bequeath them to his cousin as his wives. While the elder princess Amba starts by hating her abductor, :on the course of the journey back to Histanpur, seeing the valor and protection offered to them by Bhishma, she falls for him.

One can easily mistake this for one of the earliest depictions of Stockholm syndrome, but then one would miss the point that Bhishma didn’t abuse or harass the princesses , but rather saved their lives, although, in a way he had also abducted them.

If the success of a fiction is judged by its ability to induce in the readers a willful suspension of disbelief, Ashok has succeeded brilliantly. You could almost visualize and rationalize the different sorts of arrows, javelins, canons etc used in the fight between Bhishma and his pursuers. So could you feel the chemistry building up between Bhishma and Amba. Ashok also ends at the right note, leaving Amba forlorn and spurned and headed toward nowhere.

The other book in the series I read was ‘the love triangle that changed destiny’: a story about Devyani, Sharmishta and Yayati.  Despite what the appearances looked like, it was not a simple love triangle story. Rather there were multiple stories embedded in it, some providing the context to the story- embedding it in the eternal fight between Asuras and Devas for supremacy- while others subtly highlighting the Varna system– how people can become a Brahmin, despite being a raj-kstriya by birth, or how a Brahmin could elevate others to brahminhood or curse them if need be- how Brahmins and Kstriyas existed, an dsometimes thought them superior than the other- what the different Dharmas of different Varnas were, the slave-hood and the Kings right (nay indeed Dharma) to sleep with the maids, and beyond this all there is an overarching theme of Sanjeevini or Eternal life or at least life that could be lived a thousand years or a life where one’s old age can be exchanged with someone for his youth—all questions that make one ponder that if we got life elongated or became immortal, would we still remain the same animals – driven by same lusts to retain our youth/ or will we be more driven by human concerns- the same Dharma obligation to feel fulfilled in our productive years by doing our duty?

Tough questions that remain lurking in the background, while ostensibly the story is mostly about whether you can trick someone into love or whether it follows naturally and from within.

This was a slightly longer read, but again the narration is fantastic and one keeps turning page after page, especially fro someone like me who had forgotten the original story and was rediscovering the myth.

Overall it was a nice evening spent – musing about the theme of love in the epics, about unwed mothers and sages siring sons, about swayamwaras and apparent choice wielded by women, about the good things in life like keeping Vows and sacrificing for your parents and about the darker side, where maids are treated as proprieties and inter-varna marriages are problematic and where someone could forcibly take someone as his or his cousins wife.

There is such a richness of emotions and wisdom, if one were to revisit the epics and try to appreciate the universals behind such folklore- its to the credit of authors like Banker that they are able to pull people back to such subjects.
This review is a part of the biggest Book Review Program for Indian Bloggers. Participate now to get free books!

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The 7 Secrets of Shiva

Deutsch: Statue des Gottes Shiva in Delhi Engl...

Image via Wikipedia

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.

This review is a part of the Book Reviews Program at BlogAdda.com. Participate now to get free books!

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