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Simulation and Imagination


Amiya P. Sen

MYTHS= MITHYA. A HANDBOOK OF HINDU MYTHOLOGY
By Devdutt Pattanaik
Penguin Books, Delhi, 2006, pp. 206, Rs. 250.00

VOLUME XXX NUMBER 11 November 2006

I found Devadutt Pattanaik’s work to be commendable in many ways. For one, there was the sheer pleasure of reading through elegant and evocative prose. There were, at several places in this book, an expression, a turn of phrase that surprised one by their potency and richness. These said or suggested many more things than what I had come to expect. “The practice of igniting tapa is known as tapasya’, writes Pattanaik (p.151), overturning many a conventional rendering of this term. I must also confess that reading this book was a humbling experience for, at the end of it all, it struck me more forcefully than ever that perhaps mythology was better understood outside pompous academic discourse and myths more intelligibly decoded through a holistic, integrated understanding of the cultural stitches used to sew together tradition. I would be greatly remiss if I did not also add that this is one of those rare productions where the author is also the illustrator, and a pretty god one at that.   Pattanaik’s book is spread over four parts. There is a short introduction followed by three larger sections, each of which deals with a pair of divinities—Brahma and Saraswati in the first case, Vishnu and Lakshmi in the second and Shiva and Shakti in the third. Some well -known myths and parables related to these gods/goddesses are then placed under the relevant section. In Pattanaik’s understanding, each of the three major sections correspond to a certain genre of myths, to a distinct way of looking at the interrelationship between man, divinity and nature. Thus, myths related to the first represent explorations of the nature of the universe; the second, with a conscious desire to extract cultural meaning from natural law and phenomena and the third, with a metaphysical concern with transgressing matter (nature) and with salvation. Apparently, the myths and the meaning implicit in them are as structure-bound as is the text that seeks to explicate them. Pattanaik’s choice of myths too is in no way quixotic but largely drawn from epic and puranic sources. They re-narrativize familiar stories but in a manner that is both entertaining and original.   If I have been at all able to understand him correctly, the quintessential argument that our author makes in this work is that the objective world—the world outside us, is our own creation and hence, the ...


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