Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Rediscovering Hindu Mythology : A Literary Perspective

Belonging to a generation which is now parenting the new e-gen, we were fed the regular potions of stories from mythology as part of growing up. A righteous son,  brother, husband, prince and king, Lord Rama was portrayed as being  anukaraneeye (ought to be followed) whereas Lord Krishna became vandaneeye (ought to be prayed) as his trickeries, manipulations, friendship with big gang of gopies were definitely some of the actions which should just be revered as Lord's special tricks. During the schooling years the magna stories got adorned with regal illustrations, thanks to Ramananda Sagar and B.R.Chopra for bringing these grand epics to our homes.  Those slotted times over the weekends, the small screens, the places in the drawing rooms (yes, those were the times when idiot boxes embellished the beauty of most of the drawing rooms in the homes) assumed the significance of a shrine and the characters mouthing the dialogues of our Gods became real life Gods. 
Opulent mythology on screen became an in thing and many followed suit and still do but the charm of 'first' is always unique and can never be replicated.

The literary field followed a similar trend. Ramayana, Mahabharata, Bhaagwat and many more were supposed to be read and recited directly from the religious scriptures, the holy books, neatly wrapped in bright red cloth. However, C.Rajagopalachari was among the prominent names who brought the grand epics in easy to understand language making reading and understanding these scriptures more accessible for all. Such books became official retellings of the epics.

Generations changed, the new breed of authors took another big leap and made an attempt not only to understand but to analyse various towering personas of the epics from their individual perspectives. The first in this category which captured the attention of many and mine too was - 'The Palace of Illusions' by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni. She made the voice of Draupdi audible for the first time, a woman who does not feel shy of verbalizing her fantasies, desires, aspirations and more importantly her dislikes too.  With liberal fictional support throughout the narrative, it succeeded in bringing a very fresh perspective.

Gurcharan Das, a fine author, a public intellectual  and a well respected commentator on social, economic and political fabric of the country extrapolated the events and reactions of those existing in the era of Krishna to the situations today in his 'Difficulty of Being Good'. He introduced and taught the world the wisely worded definitions of sadharan-dharma and sva-dharma. Former being associated to caste/varna/society and the latter defines the innate nature of an individual and how the work of these two in unison or otherwise defines and dictates our actions.

Devdutt Pattanaik, has accumulated a great body of work in lore writing. His 'Jaya' is a fine version of Mahabharata originally called 'Jaya' only.  Devdutt works on the premise that since this ancient epic has been written, retold, translated and interpreted by many, there are many variations in the main story as well as the tertiary stream of stories that join the main saga. He has written books on Shiva, Kali, Ganesha, Rama and many more. He has penned some interesting short stories for children too with some contemporary twist.  

When we talk about the names to reckon with, in the genre of mythology, Ashok K. Banker's name is surely among the front runners. He has made an indelible mark on this literary space through his much acclaimed - Ramayana series, Krishna Coriolis and now ongoing series on Mahabharata. He has presented the heroes as ordinary humans going through similar vicissitudes in life as we do.

Not just of the abovementioned seasoned authors, mythology has caught the fancy of many new entrants on the literary firmament too. Nilanjan P. Chodhury (Bali and the Ocean of Milk) and Amish Tripathi (Immortals of Meluha) are a couple of names who have taken cues from legendary stories and have fabricated their own tales around them with a lot of fictional element in the narrative. They have showcased their wit and creativity in spinning a completely new yarn out of the raw material. It is impressive how they so seamlessly conjoin the historical and mythical facts with contemporary terminology so that their pieces of writing take modern look and feel.

For instance, Nilanjan integrates the setting of ocean churning with scientific facts like Big Bang while astutely incorporating political references and peppering the whole medley with some extant lingo - facebook, mobile phone cameras, animal rights violation, low fat milk and likes of these.
Highlights of Amish Tripathi's writing are - the introduction of duality of life and their coexistence, and the definition of Shiva(God and goodness). He mesmerised the readers with his belief when he writes thus - an ordinary man can become Mahadev and that is possible only when he fights for good. Har Har Mahadev - All of us are Mahadev.

A very recent entrant in the writing field, Ravi Venu retells the story of Ramayana - 'I, Rama' from the voice of the central character - Rama himself. The book has the potential of getting noticed and appreciated because of some unique points. 

There are some books written from Ravana's point of view too and I am sure time is not far when we would have these great tales presented from each and every characters' perspective.

But what is the need to retell or redefine the stories? As I understand it, there could be more than one possibilities.

"Yada Yada Hi Dharmasya, Glanirva Bhavathi Bharatha,
Abhyuthanam Adharmaysya, Tadatmanam Srijami Aham."

Which means - "Whenever there is decay, of righteousness O! Bharatha And a rise of unrighteousness, then I manifest Myself!" These words are believed to be uttered by the God himself in Bhagawat Gita. We grew up believing that we are in Kaliyug and we must await the arrival of the tenth incarnate of God who will bring semblance to the chaotic ways of life on Earth. Seeing all the research and analysis that is going on in order to understand and redefine time defying epics, I wonder, would some literary piece rise to reach the zenith to be an incarnate itself? Who knows, it might just happen this time. 

Or as the well acclaimed writer - Devdutt Pattanaik says - "In these modern times, we are eager to correct people, Rama (Gods) included, rather than understand them". So perhaps the critically analysing(rather fault finding) tendency of modern human is making us question our super heroes and eventually leading some of us to re-sketch them as per our tastes and sensibilities.

Or have we understood that the pearls of wisdom that get accumulated over the ages are the ones which can withstand any test of time? As a result a little bit of tweaking is done in order to package them as relevant and relatable for the contemporary generation.

Or is this because of the lack of any contemporary hero; because as Mc Henry says 'every generation needs its own heroes'. In the absence of any hero in our lives, we are trying to shuffle the pages of history and mythology to look for solutions to our current age problems.

I firmly believe that the way any story (epic or otherwise) is understood, analysed and presented has a lot to do with a myriad of factors - the time, and the prevailing mindset, customs and culture of that time. So when we experience almost complete metamorphosis of our society with time, perhaps redefining mythology is not wrong either. Some great endeavours have been made by comprehending minds and we must appreciate the same.


  1. Vibha.. i have been a regular reader of your blog and do you know that i was expecting this kind of post compiling your opinion on all literature you read about mythology from long time?
    Iam very interested in reading mythology and grew up form childhood by listening to interesting stories in Ramyana, Mahabharata and Bhagavatham. After reading your blog, i got an idea on what books might interest me and checking for your opinion on all the books that you mentioned. A very thoughtful post and i completely agree the last lines
    when we experience almost complete metamorphosis of our society with time, perhaps redefining mythology is not wrong either. Some great endeavours have been made by comprehending minds and we must appreciate the same.


  2. Thanks for the comment Ramya. I am glad you enjoyed reading the consolidated post on mythology.

  3. An interesting post Vibha, I love your comment about parenting the e generation :)

  4. Thanks Lindy. Good to have you here :)

  5. So far, all that all the religions of the world have presented to humankind is some God representatives, who come from behind a smoke screen and disappear behind a smoke screen. With human mind having evolved considerably over last few centuries, the next big thing might be when the average human mind reaches a stage where it is able to see thru' that smoke screen and is able to see without doubt what is out there, without having to depend solely on belief. That might be the tenth incarnate of God.

  6. Very insightful comment. Sometimes I feel perhaps the haze around their entry and exit is what creates that kind of aura around them.


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