Monday, October 03, 2016

How much Mythology is too much Mythology?

In recent times, the tidal wave of interest in mythology has become something of a publishing phenomenon. Thanks to the extraordinary success of the likes of Ashwin Sanghi, Anand Neelakantan, Devdutt Pattnaik and Amish Tripathi among others, the supposedly 33 crore deities from the Hindu pantheon have been retrieved from the musty passageways of memory and legend, dusted off, polished, retrofitted and propelled into the collective consciousness with gleaming, often  glamourous avatars. And the reading populace can’t get enough, it seems. Mythology appears to have become a safe bet as far as the publishers are concerned and hence, an endless stream of myth – based fiction is making its way to the marketplace. But is this surfeit of a good thing really a good thing? 
            On the one hand, one wishes that aspiring authors would quit it with the mythology obsession which if it continues at the present rate is surely going to make the taste of the flavour of the season cloying in the extreme and effectively kill the market. It is the hope that the scribblers write about something else or take up another career if it means making the field less competitive. But that would be indicative of selfish self – interest as this writer has a finger in the mythology pie and it would behove her to look at this question from an objective angle.
            While those with a religious frame of mind or an appreciation for our glorious culture and heritage are no doubt thrilled that youngsters have taken to Puranic lore in such a big way the more conservative among the populace are frothing at the mouth with some of the artistic liberties taken with the sacrosanct material that most first heard, while seated on the laps of their grandmothers who told the edifying stories just so, the way they heard it while sitting cross – legged on the earthen floor from their elders. In this brave new world though, the Gods are no longer all powerful entities who leave the pious quaking with love, awe or fear but they have been brought to the level of the mortals where one may get up close and personal with them and I daresay find a wart or two and even grey hairs, sorry, shades.
            This brand new relationship that has been forged with the supreme consciousness, appalling as it may be to some is nevertheless a wonderful thing. And before extremists grab their weapons of sweeping condemnation and moral outrage, allow me to elaborate. Indian culture with its grandiose, sweeping range and a major chunk of traditions, religious and otherwise that have been handed down over the millennia has survived despite repeated attacks by invaders who made short work of entire civilizations. And no, it is not a fluke.
The powerful Gods from Roman and Greek mythology rule only in the pages of charming fiction but are otherwise forgotten and certainly not worshipped. Youngsters hardly know the Norse Gods, excepting Thor and Loki, the mighty God of Thunder and his nemesis, who many believe to be the work of Stan Lee at his most creative. Have the Egyptian Gods or the way of life that came into being with the magnificent Nile – valley civilization retained their relevance?  What about the Incans, Maya or Aztecs? What spared India from a similar fate? 
While it has not been worked down to a science, the general consensus is that Indians have always had the ability to assimilate the best from other religions, cultures and traditions even if it belongs to a hated conqueror in order to incorporate the best others have to offer with the vastness of the precious knowledge that was no doubt accumulated in the same way and make it their own. It is through this remarkably symbiotic process that the gifts of our predecessors in the fields of art, science, philosophy etc. have been preserved and we ensure that the presents of the past survives the merciless sands of time. If that is not a beautiful thing I don’t know what is!
Likewise, if the modern era demands that we re-examine the way we choose to connect with our Gods and Goddesses, treating them as friends, adversaries or intriguing puzzles that need to be scrutinized every which way, surely there is nothing wrong with it? Because for the most part, readers pick up these new – fangled books not merely because they are a fad or an amusing curiosity but out of an underlying sense of love and deep respect for a culture and heritage that is exclusively our own and one we can take rightful pride in.
This abiding affinity for all things Indian be it myth, pickles or item numbers allows us to stay connected to our roots and feel the sanctuary of a grandmother’s lap even as we find ourselves barrelling across the highway of life, heading for strange shores to make our homes, embracing cutting – edge technology and contributing to it or wrapping our heads around ideas and notions that are entirely foreign but have been accepted as the norm. Why then should we disparage authors for taking the mythology that is common to all of us and doing with it what they will if it means that our children and their children will keep the treasure trove of the best of our ancient beliefs close to their hearts and value it forever? 

Hopefully future generations will take the old stories, add a little something new in keeping with their times and infuse it with a delicious irreverence that will make the most sacrilegious and contentious authors of the present day puke blood or roll in their graves. That would be fine too, because ultimately we cannot have too much of a good thing when it is our good thing.   

An edited version of this piece was published in Creative India

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