We must learn to live with each other’s myths, says Devdutt Pattanaik

India’s most popular mythologist delivers Star of Mysore 40th Anniversary Lecture

Mysuru:  Devdutt Pattanaik, an Indian mythologist, writer and Star of Mysore columnist, known for his work on ancient Indian scriptures, delivered the Star of Mysore 40th Anniversary Lecture at the celebrations held at the Platinum Jubilee Auditorium in city last evening.

Beginning his address with his 10-year-long association with Star of Mysore, Devdutt explained how meanings change over time and over centuries. Before dwelling deep on mythology, he illustrated two words “Nyay” and “Gay” and explained to the audience how the meanings changed.

“The word ‘Nyay,’ which earlier meant rational and systematic thinking, now means ‘justice.’ The word ‘Gay,’ which earlier meant happiness, now means homosexual. Like this, the meaning of the word ‘mythology’ too has changed over centuries,” he said.

Devdutt, known for his prolific writings on mythology that in a way influences the way society perceives myth said, “In colonial times, Polytheism was declared mythology. Today we know Theology is mythology of monotheists. Ideology is mythology of atheists.”

About Mythology

Explaining the change in the word mythology, he said that while in 19th Century, it was Polytheism (worship of or belief in multiple deities), 20th Century was based on rationalism and ‘measurement.’ “Truth in 20th Century is that could be measured, proved and quantified. Everything that was concerned with divinity was dismissed as myth and if measurable evidence is not produced that means you are lying. In 21st Century, mythology is subjective truth,” he explained.

“Despite hailing from a country well-known for its multitude of cultures and rich mythology, the average Indian’s knowledge of the scripture is poor. In modern times when digital proficiency has become the most important skill, more so than the understandings of right and wrong, ethical and non-ethical actions and the considerations of humanity as a whole, mythology has taken a back seat. They have come to be regarded only as stories for children with no bearing on the modern human life,” he observed.

A frog in the well

“Unfortunately, scientific temper taught us to disrespect religion. The education taught at school systematically demolished beliefs, stories. We are living in a world of “Koopa Mandooka” (Mithya or Finite Truth). We need to move towards Anantha Sathya (Infinite Truth).

He told the audience that was listening with rapt attention that with the modern generation barely taking into account the importance of Indian mythology,

there’s a high chance that children being born at this time will be removed from the tales that give an idea of the roots of their culture.

Devdutt, who has written over 30 books, explaining how stories, symbols and rituals construct the subjective truth (myths) of ancient and modern cultures around the world, said, “mythology tells people how they should see the world. There is no one mythology for the world today or for the future. Different people will have their own mythology, re-framing old ones or creating new ones.”

Myths are necessary

“Anantha Sathya is not binary as in Science. Science is limited. When we use Western way of thinking, truth is static or limited. But if you think Indian way, it is infinite. We need the myth to feel good about ourselves. Every culture creates these myths and transmits it through stories, symbols, iconography and rituals. In the last 100 years, nations were established based on these myths,” he explained.

“Myths have nothing to do with ‘history.’ History is time-bound. Myth is timeless. History tells us how people lived in the past. Myth tells us how heroes and Gods live all the time. Western mythology is far more glamorous as it establishes ‘villains’ and ‘victims’ and calls for

‘heroes’ to act. But Indian mythology is not just that. It expands the scope and speaks in terms of infinity that is more wisdom- driven and less glamorous. Indian mythology is like clear water waiting for the thirsty to come and drink,” he explained.

On truth

“Behind mythology is a myth and behind myth a truth — an inherited truth about life and death, about nature and culture, about perfection and possibility, about hierarchies and horizons. This truth, according to Devdutt, is hidden beneath the hyperbolic and fantastical nature of mythology,” he said on ‘truth.’ Interspersing his lecture with quotes from Sanskrit, like “Alpa Buddhi Mahabhayankaram” (half-baked knowledge is dangerous), Devdutt said that a Koopa Mandooka (a frog in the well) is confident with its limited knowledge while a sage is not confident as he is willing to listen and learn.

Somebody’s truth

“I want people to understand that a myth is “somebody’s truth” and so needs respect. We still have the colonial hangover and believe that my truth is the truth, and we have the scientific arrogance that objectivity is truth, or rationality is truth, and dismiss subjectivity. We are trained to divide the world into fact (everybody’s truth) and fiction (nobody’s truth). Even journalists and historians fall into this trap. This is the primary source of all conflicts,” he said. “If only we allowed people to revel in their myth and taught ourselves to live with other people’s myth, the world would be better. Different people imagine the world differently, and so have different notions of God and life and purpose and death,” he observed.

On Bharata and Bahubali

Concluding his lecture with the story of Bharata and Bahubali (as the 88th Mahamastakabhisheka is underway at Shravanabelagola) he said that Bahubali and Bharata were among the 100 sons to their parents.

“When the power struggle between Bahubali and Bharata took place, Bahubali faced a unique situation. He had to bow before Bharata as he was his elder brother, and he refused to bow before him and as such he had to renounce the throne. If he renounced the throne he would have to bow before his 98 younger brothers who had renounced the throne before him and were seniors to him (Bahubali) at the religious mutt though in age they were younger to him. If one observes the statue of Bahubali, one can see creepers encircling his legs. This shows that he is pulled down preventing him from spiritual elevation, hence is different from  other Thirthankaras.”

Union Minister H.N. Ananth Kumar taking a look at the ‘Star of Mysore Newspaper Wall’ created
for the occasion at the entrance of the Platinum Jubilee Auditorium in J.K. Grounds along
with K.B. Ganapathy, Mysuru-Kodagu MP Pratap Simha and former Minister S.A. Ramdas.

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