Review: Myth=Mithya by Dr. Devdutt Pattanaik

by Nikhil Kautilya on November 4, 2013

Author: Devdutt Pattanaik
Publisher: Penguin Books
Year: 2006
ISBN: 9780143099703
Rating: ★★★☆☆
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Dr.Devdutt Pattanaik’s Myth=Mithya serves as a valuable introduction to Indian Mythology. While it could be termed simplistic by some, the average young urban professional would benefit from this crash course in their heritage.

When I watched his talk at TED a few years ago, what reached me first was the man’s smile. He had a disarming smile. And then I came across his stories. Several-grandmothers-worth of stories and then, that smile! He was Dr. Devdutt Pattanaik. And well, the grandmothers inside him did burst out one day as he went on to write books specifically aimed at children; a series called ‘Fun in Devlok‘ .

MBBS – Speaker – Illustrator – Consultant – Chief Belief Officer – Author is what mythology-driven Dr. Pattanaik’s resume reads today. And a bit more, perhaps! Dr. Pattanaik’s Myth=Mithya: A Handbook of Hindu Mythology is a compilation of his retellings of Hindu mythological stories.

Myth, as he calls it, is the idea, and mythology is its carrier. Mithya, he further states, is a truth dependent on a frame of reference. And satya or sat is independent of any view-point. Absolute! The title is probably to draw a parallel between Myth and Mithya with the aforesaid meanings respectively; that mythology is a mithya. And this is certainly true, for we often have different tellings of a given story in the mythology. Tellings, not versions, as A K Ramanujan, the scholar, has quite rightly put in his controversial essay, Three Hundred Ramayanas, for the latter implies that there exists an original text.(‘The Collected Essays of A. K. Ramanujan’, Oxford University Press (2004), p. 134)

This handbook is not a comprehensive collection; our history doesn’t allow it to be. But it does have references spanning from the primal Vedas, to the Puranas, to the epics like Mahabharata and Ramayana, to folklore. The book is divided into three parts; one part each devoted to Brahma-Saraswati, Vishnu-Lakshmi and Shiva-Shakti. This division is similar to that in the eighteen Puranas. And so we have six Puranas each with these as the predominant deities- six Rajasic in nature glorifying Brahma, six Saatvic glorifying Vishnu and six Tamasic glorifying Shiva.

Each part of the book is then very subtly sectioned into headings or, if I could put it more meaningfully, for a purpose. The stories are grouped accordingly. This isn’t effective, though, because the analysis is superficial. So it read more like a story-book with some degree of decipherment for the masses. The same is apparent in the way references are made without specific details.

The language is simplistic. The content is of high potential and quality, so the simple writing acts as an effective bridge. The mythology, undoubtedly, does look amiable and appealing under his writing and serves as an easy introduction to Indian mythology for novices.

Dr. Pattanaik likes to illustrate his own work and does have skilled fingers. That is very much on display in his televised discussions ( Shastrarth, Business Sutra on CNBC network), that centre on Mythology. His books are full of illustrations that aid in visualizing figures of God and Goddesses and have a number of symbols as well. He uses tables and diagrams liberally but the latter are sometimes too abstract and lack sufficient explanation. The material is explicit in nature, unlike the mythological shows on television, and takes advantage of the liberty afforded to a writer, in order to make the text realistic.

The book can become a point of conjunction between man and mythology for some. A teaser for many, perhaps. Well, teasing me for now is why Dr. Pattanaik says the Indra with a hundred eyes instead of a thousand, as some sources claim! ( i. ‘The Collected Essays of A. K. Ramanujan’, Oxford University Press (2004), pp. 135-138; ii. ‘Ahalya: A Myth or reality’, http://www.valmikiramayan.net/bala/sarga49/bala_49_prose.htm) Read this interview with him for more: Bookish interview with Dr.Pattanaik or visit his website : Dr. Devdutt Pattanaik’s webpage

Written by Nikhil Kautilya

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