Thursday, August 18, 2011

Myth=Mithya - A Handbook of Hindu Mythology by Dr. Devdutt Pattanaik: Impressions

I almost got into a fight with a friend over this book yesterday. I stood up for the book, in the way we stand up for things we like, and more importantly, agree with. The last few days of reading the book have been immensely enjoyable; one, because it is a subject that really interests me, and two, because it has been written so unpretentiously. When my friend said that this book has been widely criticised for a singular and narrow view, I was almost certain that the academics were angered because the language and the content of Myth=Mithya is not froufrou (something the academics have zealously maintained for years). He says the book cannot claim to be a 'handbook' when it doesn't take into account all interpretations of popular mythological lore. Perhaps he is right. But in a country where local shades add so many colours to a story, can *any* book claim to know and contain all?
Dr. Devdutta Pattanaik's book, Myth=Mithya may not be a know-all and tell-all, but it definitely qualifies as a superb book. Although the author says, in his note, that the book need not be read sequentially, I did, mostly because I found it unputdownable. Divided sensibly into three sections, the book lays down stories and their interpretations about Brahma-Saraswati, Vishnu-Lakshmi and finally, Shiva-Shakti. The sections follow the creation-preservation-destruction plot, and offer big and small lores illustrating the points.
The book began to impress me right from page one, and its three-page introduction is one of the most impressive ones I've ever read. Dr Pattanaik explains with such authority and lucidity the difference between objective and subjective truths, that between mythos and logos, between sat and mithya, and thus the difference between the exaggerations and the objectives of mythological stories. Apart from the beauty of non-lofty, non-pedantic and non-showoffy language, the book is also pleasantly non-judgmental. The author lists many a story and the customs associated with it in a matter-of-factly way, never once pronouncing whether these customs/traditions are good or bad. Many 'interpretations' I've read before have succumbed to a personal stance.     
I've also learned, with this book, a great many nuances about everyday names, symbols, and stories associated with Hinduism. I didn't know, for instance, that Yama was born as Vidur, that Skanda and Kartikeya were the same god, that Lakshmi's counterpart was Alakshmi and that there was a place beyond Narak called Put. The book offers many such mythological tidbits, their whys and wherefores and some wonderfully compiled tables and that makes Myth=Mithya a good read. I recommend it strongly to anyone interested in the subject. It may not be a complete handbook, it definitely is a handy one.                   

1 comment:

twilight said...

I'm in complete agreement there. the book left me so much more informed about a lot of things one tends to rubbish as baseless.