26 April 2014

Book Review: Myth=Mythya: Author Devdutt Pattanaik

 I was on the lookout for a new book to read. That is when I came across the book 'Myth=Mithya' authored by Dr.Pattanaik (again). This book is a treatise on Indian 'Mythosophy' (Philosophy throu Mythology). This book is divided into three parts, each part focusing on each of the main deity's (Trimurtis) in Hindu Mythology vis Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva and their consorts Saraswati, Lakshmi and Parvati. 

According to the Hindu Mythology Brahma is the Creator of the universe, Vishnu is the Maintener of order and peace and Shiva is the Destroyer. For a story aficionado, this is a gold mine. For a seeker of Hindu Philosophy, he gets the philosophical perspectives brought out by these stories. The author seamlessly navigate between philosophical perspectives and appropriate stories. 

The beauty of Indian Mythology is that despite their separate roles, there is a close interaction between the Triumvirate.  You can see each one of the three Gods helping the other in some occasions and punishing them in other occasions. For example, Brahma the creator created a beautiful woman to help extend mankind through reproduction. Since she was created by Brahma, she was his daughter. As is the custom, she wanted to do a 'Pradakshinam' (walking around elders with folded hands, to get their blessings.) around Brahma. But Brahma became so besotted with her beauty she wanted to keep looking at her always. To achieve this he developed heads facing each direction to ensure that the woman he created is never out of his eyesight. 

Unable to withstand Brahma's lustfilled look, the woman started flying away. To see her while she was flying, Brahma developed a fifth head on the top and started following her wherever she went. Finally, having panicked by Brahma's incessant stalking, the woman prayed to Lord Shiva who came and cut off Brahma's fifth head, thereby bringing Brahma to his senses...

The book talks about 'Sathya' (the eternal truth) and 'Mithya' (truth within a specific framework). Unlike the other religions where there is a clear distinction between Good and Bad or Sin and Virtue and even God and Devil, Indian mythology do not have any real parallel. There is nothing called 'Lie' in Hindu Mythology. As per Hinduism 'Lie' is only a particular view of the truth within a specific framework. 'Mythya' is not 'Lie', it is truth from one's perspectives. 

The different perspectives that cloud a person's view of the absolute truth (Satya) is / are known as 'Maya'. Each one of us has our view of the world, created by our unique cloud, unique perspective, unique Maya. What a seeker of truth does is to slowly remove these layer of Maya to move towards the ultimate truth. 

The book also talks about the powerful liquid that lies in our body. It is the semen and it can flow either in downward direction or in upward direction. When it flows downward, it is called 'Rasa' and helps in procreation. The upward flowing liquid is called 'Tapa' and this help move the liquid from your lower hip towards our brain. Enlightened people achieve the power of 'Tapa' through 'Tapasya'.

One final word about the concept of Equity and Debt in Indian Philosophy. Every act or deed of ours lead to one of the four outcomes: Increase Equity, Increase Debt, Decrease Equity and Decrease Debt. At the end of the day, your balance sheet will be prepared and you will either go to 'Swarga (Heaven)' or 'Naraka (Hell)' based on the relative value of your Equity and Debt.

The book is not as boring as my review above suggests. This book is a treasure trove of Mythological Stories. Many stories. Fascinating stories. Most of them I had read as a child. Story of demons Hiranyaksha and Hiranyakashipu, of how Vishnu as Mohini helped kill a demon who was threatening to kill Shiva, the Story of the power of Shiva, the power of Vishnu and the Power of Brahma,  the story of Bali and Sugriva.....

The list goes on.

Mr.Pattanaik has tried to maintain the balance between Stories and lessons thereof. And that is what makes Indian Mythology so fascinating. 

At the end of reading this book, one is tempted to ask for more, to demand more of the ocean that is Hindu Mythology and the associated philosophy...

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