myths and mythology


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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Man has always sought to understand the world around him better, and myths are the imaginative traditions devised to explain his surroundings. Early Man would have been completely in awe of the natural and supernatural phenomena around him and assumably would have sought to make sense of the natural marvels such as lightening & thunder, rain & drought, day & night, birth & death. From myth come beliefs, from mythology customs. Myth conditions thoughts and feelings; mythology influences behaviours and communications. Through mythology, man sought to understand his environment, the nature of his world, and even the existence of God. However, it would be foolhardy to think of these tales merely as a product of someone’s overactive imagination. Indeed, if ‘myth’ is an idea, mythology is the vehicle of that idea.

Redefining ‘Myth’

The Hindu worldview can be startling to those accustomed to a Western thought process. Until, we challenge the old definition of myth; the irrational, the unreasonable, the false and embrace a new definition: the subjective truth expressed in stories, symbols and rituals, that shapes all cultures, Indian or Western, ancient or modern, religious or secular. The Sanskrit word for subjective truth is mithya-not the opposite of the objective truth; but a finite expression of satya, that which is infinite. It was the experience of their mystery, mingled with fear that gave birth to Mythology and eventually, religion. Hindus have one God, and 330 million gods: male gods, female gods, personal gods, clan gods, household gods, gods who reside in plants, animals, images, designs, and objects; and a whole host of demons, not all bad; but neither the character of the Devil, nor the concept of evil.

The perpetual Mythological force

Fascinatingly, people outgrow myth and mythology when myth and mythology fail to respond to their cultural needs. As long as Egyptians believed in the afterworld ruled by Osiris, they built pyramids. As long as Greeks believed in Charon, the ferrymen of the dead, they placed copper coins for him in the mouth of the dead. Likewise, the Chinese myth of Pangu, Vedic concept of Purush, and the Norse myth of Ymirall tell of a cosmic giant who is sacrificed to create the world, and we can understand these from the way Christ’s death changed the world around him completely. These ancient thought processes exist no more but somewhere, somehow they still affect the modern cultures.

The Hinduism ideology

Many people perceive Hinduism as Monotheistic, Polytheistic, Pantheistic, or even Monistic; still, none of them may be wrong in their assumptions. At its core, Hinduism believes in One Supreme God who manifests Himself as many to create, preserve and ultimately annihilate the Creation. The Supreme Brahman is beyond concepts and images anyway, and from this attitude comes great tolerance and inclusiveness which is the characteristic of Hinduism. Sacred Hindu texts, the Vedas are believed to be of non-human origin and a container of timeless wisdom. The Vedas claim, ‘Truth is one, but sages call it by different names.’ Other religion has its God say, as Krishna does in the Bhagvad Gita, ‘All paths lead to Me.’

A fanciful tale

Throughout its millennia-old history, Hinduism provided its followers with the freedom of worshiping God in whichever form they want. Hindu seers long ago realised the world is limitless and boundless, full of unimaginable potential and possibilities. Any attempts to fathom the mystery through science, mathematics ,and logic were futile. What mattered more than the objective world was the subjective world of each. They, therefore, focused their attention and genius less on geography and history, and more on philosophy and metaphysics. What mattered more than the landscape of the world was the landscape of the soul. Myths came into the scene, and then came mythology: hyperbolic and fantastic.

Image credits: ancientsymbols.com


Radhika Boruah