Saturday, July 30, 2011

Book Review: Myth = Mithya

Myth = Mithya: A Handbook of Hindu Mythology
By Dr. Devdutt Pattanaik

Hinduism is full of quirks. As the back cover of the book points out, Hindus have millions of Gods (at one time, exceeding the total population of Hindus) but have no representation of Satan! Indeed, Hinduism can be some confusing for its followers that many choose too simply focus on one God and end it there.

However, the truth is that the religion actually has just one God and everything else is a representation of that one God. Think of it as a diamond - it looks different from different angles, but it is essentially the same continuum. In this seminal work on Hindu mythology, Dr. Devdutt Pattanaik takes us through some of these concepts and tells us about the meaning of various forms and representations of God.

The entire book is divided into three parts - one for each God of the Hindu trinity. But the division is not firm and, like the religion itself, it tends to overlap at many places. Dr. Pattanaik has added a number of simple tables and flow charts as well as hand-drawn illustrations to bring out his point. So a picture of Lakshmi and Kali clearly allow the reader to see the difference between the two, until they realise that two essentially represent two different forms of the same thing - nature!

My favourite section was the one on Shiva. The author has a nice way to presenting his views - he first expresses an idea and then backs it up with an illustration from an ancient text. The entire books follows this path and we get an insight into what various incidents in the Ramayana, Mahabharat and other works really mean.

Overall, Myth = Mithya is a good read for anybody interested in religion from an academic perspective. This is not a religious book as such - it does not discuss devotion and prayer. Instead, it is a refreshingly academic work on one of the world's largest and least understood belief systems.

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