In conversation with: Devdutt Pattanaik, eminent mythologist and leadership consultant

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Mythology is a subjective truth. Every culture imagines life in a certain way.”- Devdutt Pattanaik

Mythology has always fascinated me. Indian art and culture has ever since been rich, but more and more people have  now started indulging into our myths. My quest to learn more of mythology led me to interview Devdutt Pattanaik, a medical doctor by education, a leadership consultant by profession and a mythologist by passion. He has authored books like My Gita, the Leadership Sutra, Myth=Mithya and many more. Here are the snippets from the interview:

  1. A doctor by education, but a mythologist by passion: so, when and how did this journey start?

It was just a hobby for weekends. But gradually my ideas  turned into strong views. This led to articles  eventually becoming lectures, and when it became financially viable in 2008, this became a full-time vocation. It was all organic. It was just hard work, maximum utilisation of opportunities, and a neat stroke of luck.

  1. It takes a lot of effort to travel to different places of India collecting myths and stories; so how does this entire process work?

Most myths are in fact available on the internet, and before that in libraries. Tonnes of people have already researched on them but they write only for academics, not for common people. Or, their knowledge is restricted to a narrow field of study. I broadened the base and made it accessible for common people.

  1. Have you considered visiting places in Southeast Asia like Cambodia, to find different versions of our Hindu myths? Angkor Wat has many stories, so does Sri Lanka. 

One had to do that in the 19th century, but not anymore. As I said, much information has already been gathered but is badly structured and presented,  hence, not many understand the patterns. For example, Hinduism is present in Southeast  Asia but you do not sense “bhakti”, or the essential power of devotional music, as the flow of ideas to the these regions was restricted before 1000 AD.

  1. Presenting our myths in their foreign versions world be interesting, so why haven’t we tried that?

We may not like these versions. The Hanuman of Southeast Asia is not celibate or devotional. He is a wild and funny rake. You don’t feel the underlying principles of the Upanishads, which means Agama or the Puranas are not amalgamated with Nigama or the Vedas, as they are in India. So they are very yet very different.

  1. In your book Shikhandi, you talk about the queer. How do you think the yesteryear’s myths can influence the present day Indian society?

In the past, people followed whatever was convenient . If you left India during those times  and crossed the sea, you lost your caste and religion. Which means the migrants couldn’t call themselves Hindus. But, we don’t follow these old codes, do we? Likewise, in past, women were considered inferior to men, incapable of achieving spiritual wisdom. We don’t believe that anymore. In the past, we believed there were three genders: male, female and queer. But this idea faded away in British times. And now is being seen as a Western import.


Feature Image credits: Devdutt.in

Radhika Boruah

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A voracious reader of Mythology, embedded in a passionate Economics student who is also fanatically involved in Hindustani Classical Music. Tattoos and baking cakes are her muse. Ever reach out to talk at [email protected]

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