Yoshika Sangal | August 16, 2016
Devdutt Pattanaik is a physician turned mythologist, author and consultant. He has written over 600 articles and 30 books on the relevance of sacred stories, symbols and rituals in modern times. Born and brought up in Mumbai, he graduated in medicine from Grant Medical College, and subsequently did a course in comparative mythology from Mumbai University. His best-sellers include Myth = Mithya, Business Sutra, Shikhandi, The Pregnant King, and Jaya: An illustrated retelling of the Mahabharata. His recent book The Girl Who Chose reframes the Ramayana as the story of the five choices of Sita.
You are a physician. What inspired you to become a writer, mythologist?
I wrote on mythology in my spare time while working in the pharma industry for nearly 15 years and then when I could afford to, following the popularity of my ideas, I turned full-time to mythology.
Have youngsters lost interest in mythology?
I don’t think any generation loses interest in it. Mythology, at a superficial level, appeals to the imagination. At a deeper level, it offers meaning.
As long as people seek meaning, they will seek mythology. In India, there was a conscious effort by the government to deny its mythic past and focus on history/science. The same happened in Europe and America. But myths always come back with renewed vigour.
What is the difference or connection between mythology and religion?
Mythology is the subjective truth of people communicated by stories, symbols and rituals. Religion is a set of rules based on a mythology. While mythology helps a community imagine the world in a particular way, religion seeks to control the behaviour of people in a particular way.
Is religion being misused?
Religion, like science and technology, can be used, abused and misused. It happens simultaneously, all the time.
How is religion relevant in the present context?
In every context religion helps people make sense of life. In earlier times, it established kings as agents of a supernatural God. Or it established a hierarchy based on birth or gender. Currently, it is based on nation-states. Nationalism is a form of religion, based on democracy, not God.
Instead of God, we are asked to believe in the wisdom of ‘people’, a collective yet impersonal entity created by members of a society.
When did you last cast your vote?
In the last general elections.
When was the last time you were in a queue at a government office?
For my Aadhaar card.
Do you have any ‘sarkari’ app on your smart phone?
No, I don’t. I have accessed the Aadhaar portal though.
Where do you see India 10 years from now?
In the same situation as today; suffering from inequality, vote-bank politics and bad planning.
What according to you are the major challenges India is facing?
The glamourisation of urbanisation is essentially what is ruining India.
What is your message to youngsters?
Think for yourself. Don’t listen to messages.
Who do you think can lead the country best from among politicians?
It depends on context and direction. The idea of ‘leader’ is based on Abrahamic mythology and the notion of the Promised Land. It is not found in Hindu, Buddhist or Jain mythology.
In India, leaders are indulged, not followed. Indians tend to be like cats, independent, who resist herding, not dogs, who obey and follow, despite popular perception.
The interview appears in the August 1-15, 2016 issue
Becoming Gandhi: Living the Mahatma`s 6 Moral Truths in Immoral Times By Perry Garfinkel Simon & Schuster India, 264 pages, Rs 699
I Am an Ordinary Man: India’s Struggle for Freedom (1914–1948) Edited by Gopalkrishna Gandhi Aleph, 456 pages, Rs 999
Selected Works of C. Rajagopalachari: Vol. VIII, 1946–48 By Ravi K. Mishra and Narendra Shukla (Editors) Orient BlackSwan, 460 pages, Rs 2,575
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