This book is one tasty meal. It begins with exploring what myth is, what purpose it serves and who needs it. According to Western philosophy, myth is understood to be ‘falsehood’. In Hindu philosophy, it is not so much a falsehood as one superficial layer that must be peeled back and transcended to really understand the ‘Truth’ – that is, what we, the worlds, and all of this dance of time and space stands for.
The blurb succinctly outlines the main message of the Hindu mythology. Hindus have one God. They also have over three million gods. (By, the way, note the difference in capitalization.) They have gods and goddesses with their unique specialization very. They also have various kinds of demons and ogres. But Hindus have no ‘Devil’. In a nutshell, the equation between the gods or devas who reside in the heavens and the demons or asuras who reside below the ground is really a tussle between disciplined, cultured ways of living or wanton, hedonistic lives in the natural world. The dynamic between gods and goddesses is also depicted as the tussle between culture and nature. Gods stand for culture, goddesses stand for nature. Culture is required to establish a certain predictability in society. Nature is required to sensitize one to the impermanence of life. Both are necessary. Both are important. Both help. Both ruin.
As with other books by Pattanaik, this one too dwells on the differences between Vishnu and Shiva. I think, personality-wise, I lean towards Shiva, Any entity that has figured out a way to keep society at bay and stay sequestered gets my vote. However, lately, I have been thinking quite a bit about Vishnu. This is after a friend’s observation that any avatar of Vishnu, especially Krishna, has a pretty tough life. To be born in a prison, to have your brothers killed, to be away from your mother, to have to confront and kill your uncle, to not be with the woman you truly loved, to give up your home and return only to see it destroyed – and yet when you see any picture of Krishna, he always has a smile. What must it take to engage with a world so fully, knowing that it will take you down and yet…smile/ I had never quite seen Krishna that way before. It was quite a revelation to see what really draws one to a deity anyway.
I definitely recommend this book to anyone who wants the warm comfort of some good storytelling. Also a reminder that maybe Hinduism with all its gods and goddesses and God is a big group hug. And not this tirade of being virgin and vegetarian that it’s devolving into.