What’s with Indians and mythology?

by Janani Hariharan on May 8, 2014

So, like this dude had, like, a big cool kingdom and people liked him. But, like, his step-mom, or something, was kind of a bitch, and she forced her husband to, like, send this cool dude, he was Ram, to some national forest or something… . Since he was going, for like, something like more than 10 years or so….. he decided to get his wife and his bro along…. you know…so that they could all chill out together.

Facebook Ramayana!

Facebook Ramayana!

Many of you would have come upon this popular retelling of the classic Ramayana, which is now famous on many social media platforms. The point of this amusing snippet was to point out a ubiquitous phenomenon in Indian literature today – retelling of mythology.

At Bookish, we regularly review the latest books published by new and experienced authors alike, and this trend has been prominent for sometime now. More and more authors are taking upon themselves the task of reinterpreting classics and mythological figures, and giving us modernized versions of them. For a relatable example, look no further than the Shiva trilogy. I, for one, was quite surprised by the portrayal of Sati, which was pretty different from the bedtime stories that I’d grown up listening to.

So what’s behind this trend? Are we just running out of new material and turning to tried-and-tested founts of wisdom for new stories? Or are we reconnecting with our roots in a new way, opening up our imaginations to what might have been? I’d like to believe that, as a culture, we are now able to accept our gods and heroes in a more human light. Younger readers prefer their heroes to have shades of grey – human passions and weaknesses, flaws and idiosyncrasies that humanize rather than deify them. That we’re able to understand the how and why of mythology in a more rational way, instead of acceptance through unquestioning obedience or fear is interesting and, I believe, a positive development.

Author Devdutt Pattanaik is famous for his logical and simple depiction of the figures in ancient lore, and he goes so far as to state that mythology can be used as a tool to foster better business practices. This points to an interesting transition in the place accorded to mythology in our lives – from a means of remembering what has passed, to an almost textbook-like material which is very real and offers us something concrete that is very applicable to our daily lives. Ever wanted to be like Arjuna or Bharat? Well, maybe you just could be!

Myth = Mithya by Devdutt Pattanaik

Devdutt Pattanaik is a particularly active author in this genre

Another reason for the popularity of this genre could be that these tales are so firmly embedded in our consciousness that their familiarity alone provides comfort. Add to that a plot twist or a different version of familiar events, and you have a potential bestseller! This combo of the known and unknown gives us ample scope to analyse, dissect, and criticize – which is what most good books do.

So will this continue? Are we going to have more and more wannabe authors taking to obscure ancient texts in a bid to make a name for themselves? In light of the success that the present ones are enjoying, there’s a good chance of that happening. Would it be such a bad thing if that happened though? Well, it depends on how skilled the interpretations are. For every success story, there are also a handful of books that didn’t make it big, inspite of having tried out the same basic formula. While it lasts though, let’s enjoy the kaleidoscope of insight that this genre provides!

Interested in the topic we’ve touched upon? Explore this genre with a couple of great  books – Sita: An Illustrated Retelling of the Ramayana, and Shashi Tharoor’s The Great Indian Novel. To take a peek into what motivates authors to weave such twists and tales, read this interview with Ravi, the author of The Crystal Guardian series. 

Written by Janani Hariharan

Wanderer, nature freak and lover of all things science-y. Certified devourer of all printed matter.

{ 28 comments… read them below or add one }

Vanathi Parthasarathi May 8, 2014 at 11:51 AM

I think these retellings are a way to understand the depth of Mahabharata. So many books on it and no two are the same. You just read and read and learn millions of minute hidden perspectives in each of its stories.

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Lakshmikanth Koundinya May 11, 2014 at 12:27 PM

These days, in matters pertaining to Indian mythology, the line seperating ‘perspective’ and ‘bullshit’ is thinning at an alarming pace.

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Mugdha May 12, 2014 at 8:29 AM

Agree completely. I can’t help but suspect that hijacking an existing plot and adding a little mirch masala here and there seems to be the easiest route for many aspiring authors to get something published.

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Nitin Vadher June 9, 2014 at 10:20 AM

Today’s trend is of mythology, it’s good to see that many authors are researching indian mythologies, and which will help today’s generation to know the Indian foundation.

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Geeta Nair June 9, 2014 at 10:28 AM

I agree with you when you say that one reason for the popularity of this genre could be that these tales are so firmly embedded in our consciousness that their familiarity alone provides comfort. I am a great fan of this genre and so is my daughter. Another thing is that you don’t get tired reading them. Each time you read, you find a new meaning, a new angle.

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Priyadarshi Das June 9, 2014 at 1:46 PM

Mythology Is The Integral Part Of The Life Of Indians.The Ramayana & The Mahabharata Reflect The Scenario Of Indians ,In Today’s Life Mythology Is Important As Some People Forget The Moral Things.

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GRVDON June 10, 2014 at 11:37 AM

when we were children we saw RAMANAND SAGAR’s RAMAYAN and MAHABHARAT for proper traditional languages. Now this is our time to shear those epic Granthas in our language and HINGLISH also. kind of mirch and masala we also seen in MELUHA series by Amish Tripathi

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Sonal June 10, 2014 at 12:09 PM

Really, description of Epics in day today’s language makes it little bit interesting. 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂

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Jacob Delhi June 10, 2014 at 1:16 PM

its great, worth reading…

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Rohit Dhamija June 10, 2014 at 1:21 PM

its great, worth reading..

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Shilpa Bindlish June 10, 2014 at 1:44 PM

its indeed easy to relate with Gods and Goddesses when talked in term of human roles..

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Nipunika Sachdeva June 10, 2014 at 2:16 PM

Nice.

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Kanakath Ajith June 10, 2014 at 2:17 PM

It is good to see many new modern versions of the so called epics which are famous for being source of ethics….. A new angle of combining the history with modern events….Just like remake of classic movies with a modern touch attracts people these would gain readers….

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RK Veluvali June 10, 2014 at 4:11 PM

Though this trend of retelling of epics like Mahabharata and Ramayan are welcome, care should be taken by the authors while portraying such beautiful characters and the conversations among those characters should be nicely dealt. Since such characters stand as an exemplary to the current and future generations to come.

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Chandrashekar Ganesan June 10, 2014 at 4:30 PM

A way to rekindle to read hard copy books…….

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vinay patil June 10, 2014 at 4:31 PM

Good read 😉

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Priyanka Bhat June 10, 2014 at 4:58 PM

Mythology is a huge part of our heritage and this renewed interest in it, not just brings back childhood memories but also helps us revisit lessons learnt from the stories there.

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Sushma June 10, 2014 at 5:19 PM

Good read! A retelling of the mythology is actually a good thing to happen, because at least then, today’s youth will want to know more about the original tales of these incidents

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Aditya Kumar Tiwari June 10, 2014 at 6:26 PM

Well…reading through all these mythology books, one is more at home with the idea of India and that of the Indians. 🙂

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Anup Kumar Jana June 10, 2014 at 6:28 PM

Mythology is a very important part of our life. Each mythological stories are like rules & regulations of life that needs to be followed to make our life happier and successful. I am great fan of mythology and I believe every generation should be aware of our mythologies which gives us so much of wisdom.

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jeevan June 10, 2014 at 7:07 PM

good read

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Jumsumtak June 10, 2014 at 8:06 PM

Sometimea when I see people go all gaga over Harry Potter, Gane of thrones and Lord Of Rings, I wonder if they have read Mahabharat and Ramayan. For me these are the best stories ever written.

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Dweep Vaidya June 11, 2014 at 6:37 AM

Indians like mythology. We associate it with culture. Even though some books challange it. I recently read The Mahabharat Secret – C Doyle. Nice book.

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Venkat Rajan June 11, 2014 at 8:33 AM

Good one 🙂 🙂

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Pratikhya Alexis June 11, 2014 at 10:25 AM

good article.

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peeyush June 11, 2014 at 2:42 PM

thanks for the article…informative

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Nupur Dua June 11, 2014 at 9:08 PM

Well-written.

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vikash June 11, 2014 at 11:26 PM

good job and well written

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