I was gifted the 7 Secrets series by a dear friend recently, and I read the 7 Secrets of Vishnu and the 7 Secrets of Shiva back to back. They are both structured in the same way with the author explaining the myth and symbolism of many a Vishnu and Shiva lore. The Vishnu book takes the avataars and forms of the Preserver God (Matsya, Kurma, Mohini, Krishna, Ram, Kalki, etc.) and explains why the incarnation was taken, what it represents, and the common stories associated with it. The Shiva book, on the other hand, picks the Destroyer God's many roopas or forms (Kala Bhairava, Ardhanarishava, Nataraja, Shankara, etc.) and tells the story behind each of them.
The books are half full of pictures and serve as helpful cases in point. There are images of temples, paintings and statues on every other page that help a reader understand the symbols associated with a certain God. With the help of these pictures, the author also demonstrates the regional variations in a single lore thus reaffirming the complexity of mythology. Our epics are not a linear stories, but an intricate web of stories which have God-knows-from-where branches.
The modern reader of mythology will find many insights in the books. My favourites include the reason why Brahma, or the Creator God, is not worshipped among Hindus, the function and meanings of the Adi-Shesh-Anant Nag, the significance of the Shiva Linga, the Deva-Asura symbology, and the nature of Goddess Lakshmi.
What I like about Pattnaik's style of writing is that he treads with perfect balance on this treacherous ground. In a country full of religious fanatics and self-proclaimed mythology experts, he writes with confidence and caution, taking care to not sound like a blind believer or like an insensitive rationalist. He sometimes proffers logical explanations, but mostly sticks to storytelling and tries to be free of bias. The author is also a gifted illustrator, and I missed seeing his wonderful illustrations in this book.
However, I find that I'm beginning to get bored of reading Devdutt Pattanaik's books. While the author's admirable style of writing remains the same, it is the content that is getting repetitive. Not the author's fault, of course. He cannot change mythology. He may write about different things, but the common interlinking stories, which are necessary for explanation's sake, appear over and over. The profusion of books on Indian mythology in the market are also to blame, for I tend to pick and read them all. How Ram goes to vanvaas and Krishna kills Kamsa must remain unchanged.
I am going to take a little break from books on Indian mythology, but I wholeheartedly recommend Pattanaik's books to a more eager student.