Decoding Indian Mythology and its Relevance in Day To Day Life
‘Myths can't be translated as they did in their ancient soil. We can only find our own meaning in our own time.’ ~ Margret Gratwood
This tells one that we will never quite know what they meant to their ancient audiences. But myths can be used as the foundation stones for new renderings that find their meanings within their own times and places.
Moreover, Myths have nothing to do with 'history'. History is time bound, while myth is timeless. History tells us how people lived in the past, whereas myths are symbolic narratives that ostensibly relate actual events to explain the world and man's experience.
In modern times when digital proficiency has become the most important skill, more so than the understanding of right and wrong, ethical and unethical actions and the considerations of humanity as a whole, mythology has taken a backseat. They have come to be regarded as mere stories with no bearing on modern human life.
However, Mythology tells people about how they should see the world. For example, Islamic mythology talks about how one God created the world and framed the rules of good conduct while Jain mythology speaks of how the world has no creator(s) and that it goes through cycles of degeneration and regeneration. The Gita addresses philosophical and psychological aspects of the human mind and human nature. ‘There is no single mythology either for today or the future’. Different people will have their own mythology, reframing old ones or creating new ones.
How is Indian mythology different from western mythology?
Every mythology brings different kinds of value to society. Abrahamic mythologies seek singularity, hence collective efficiency. Indian mythologies seek plurality, hence diverse effectiveness. Mythologist and author Devdutt Pattanaik says that he finds a particular phenomenon fascinating. “I find many Indian mythologies being approached using Western heroic structures. It shows how we have become so westernised that we don’t realise what we consider universal is actually rooted in Greek and Abrahamic myths, which is why we seek heroes and villains and martyrs even in Hindu stories that follow a very different non-linear cyclical structure.” Western ideas deal with objective ‘artha’ whereas Indian philosophy deals with cause and consequences like ‘dharma’, ‘kama’ and ‘moksha’ to achieve balance in life.
How has it changed?
Due to the changing times the interpretation of Indian mythology has also changed. Despite the existence of concepts like ‘Ardhanareshwar’ that promoted egalitarian philosophies, women(peripheral characters) were largely shown as subdued. However, in the recent decades, it has moved from uber masculine, patriarchal symbols to critical and creatively progressive reinterpretations.
The advent of television shows like ‘Siya ke Ram’ i.e the Ramayana from Sita’s perspective and books written by contemporary authors like Amish Tripathi, Amit Majumdar etc have been instrumental towards women’s depiction in mythology from sexuality, vulnerability and grace to that of feminism. Paradoxical characters like Raja Harishchandra who compromised with his family, kingdom for a promise; that have been revered in the past are increasingly becoming questionable due to the lack of relevance to the modern world.
Ravana’s portrayal is noteworthy too as most people have biased interpretations wherein they view him as a symbol of evil, ignoring his multifarious facade, and the circumstances that caused him to act in a certain fashion.
Also, the curses in mythology have been deterrents for various plots, however, the applicability of a curse in today’s society is non-existent.
Why do we not connect with and misunderstand mythology?
Some people tend to compare and contrast science to mythology. However, science is about measurement and experimentation and evidence. Whereas, myth is about faith. They are two very different worlds. The former is best when dealing with matter and the latter when dealing with the mind, especially emotions and imagination.
It is also imperative to not judge the characters and justify their actions. The stories are meant to wonder about the motivations and ask why one’s ancestors consider certain characters to be divine and others not so divine. Bias of any form should be kept aside as it destroys the power of ancient mythology in the course of trying to sanitise and censor ancient tales.
Where are we heading?
The rich, multi-dimensional content of mythology serves as a blueprint for many new stories and the lessons that one can draw. The increased participation in mythological content seems to indicate that once again there is a wave of creators and consumers dipping into the rich well of Indian mythology that never seems to run dry.
Nevertheless, our understanding of mythology persists to be poor due to the way we deal with it in mainstream society. It reflects our own see-sawing reality; one that has not exactly perceived or characterised its own personality and is yet to consider either.
~ Adithi Reddy