Devdutt Pattanaik: Changing the discourse on Indian mythology

Devdutt Pattanaik has perhaps changed the discourse on mythology today. He has introduced Indian and international readers to a different side of Indian mythology and has produced over 30 books on a wide number of topics, that tell many stories which are unheard of. His most recent book, Olympus, is an Indian retelling of Greek mythology.

We caught up with him for a brief chat as he was in the city to inaugurate the Mahabharata film festival.

What will a world without mythology be like? 

It will be full of animals. Because humans can imagine, there is mythology. Your identity is based on mythology. Without mythology, we will all be animals. It is very simple!

Through your books, you have always tried to bring to the fore the feminist and queer perspectives to mythology. Why is it that these aspects are always negated and repressed?

This is because we live in a patriarchal society and now we are questioning that. So, naturally the stories that were otherwise not been seen, are being seen. I have tried to change the spotlight.

How does the right wing respond to your work?

They love it! The right wing also appreciates my work. I’ve had a problem more with the left wing than the right wing. The left wing likes to believe that they’re rational and I believe that everybody is irrational on either side. I believe that you have to deal with irrational people with love whether they’re on the left or on the right. There is extremism on either side and as your mother told you, ‘Look on the left, look on the right and then walk straight.’

Do we do a disservice to mythology when we take it literally? 

We don’t do a disservice to mythology; we do a disservice to ourselves because we deny our own humanity.

You have looked into Indian mythology and derived an approach to look at modern business strategies. What is the synergy? 

The mythology is about human behaviour and relationships. Business is also about human relationships. There is really no difference. If you have the eyes to see, then you see it everywhere. We have conditioned ourselves to be blind. We celebrate being blind. We want to be Dhritarashtra.

In Hinduism, we are very obsessed with the notion of tyag or renunciation. Why is that? 

That’s just one half of Hinduism. That’s the shramana parampara. The other half of Hinduism is about the celebration of the body and the household. Look at our festivals, where people sing and dance. Think of someone from America who sees this as a religious festival where people are singing and dancing, they will find it very weird. This is because religion for them is this very horrifying thing, that is controlled by people from their sombre experience. Here, we sing and dance, we have sweets and we offer food to God. It’s very different. It’s hardly monastic. The monastic order is controlled by men and we must be very careful of that. Personally, I am weary of celibate men who declare themselves as religious leaders. When you have no experience of sex, you should not comment on sexuality!

Vijayta Lalwani

Vijayta Lalwani

The young lady from Lagos has always been keen on a career in journalism. Pune365 was hence the right stop. We agree.
Vijayta Lalwani