Censoring the God

Modern Mythmaking 15 Comments

Published in Corporate Dossier ET, Dec. 10, 2010

So many times I want to write about a politician or a businessman or a film star, but I dare not. They can get upset with my opinions. And when they are upset, I can get into trouble. They are like the gods of ancient times, angry and troublesome, locked in faraway mountains behind fortresses of clouds, bearing in their hands tridents and thunderbolts with which they can strike you if you upset them. You need them for your daily dose of time pass but you cannot have an opinion about them – at least not in a public forum. You can gossip all about them in informal networks so long as it is not in any official medium. You cannot speak of their bedroom habits or their drug habits or their arrogant attitude or their superstitions or their occult leanings. You can only praise them or say things that contribute to their media image. Censorship is thus a powerful way used by celebrities to control their public image. The same tool curiously is used by parents to control what is told to children about the gods.

Often I am approached by well-meaning people who want stories to be told to their children. So which story must one tell children? “Tell the Ramayana.” So I begin – Once upon a time, there was a king with three wives…And they interrupt, “Skip the three wives part. How can one talk about polygamy to children?” And then I come to the part where Ram abandons Sita following gossip in the city. And they interrupt again, “Can we end the Ramayana with the coronation part and skip this tragic ending?” In fact, many parents feel the Ramayana should not be told to children as it is a patriarchal narrative. They feel I should tell the story of Krishna. Which part? “The childhood part when he is so sweet and naughty.” And do we tell the story of how he stole clothes? “No, no, that is awkward.” And the part about Raas-Lila. “No, no, that is difficult to explain.” So shall I tell the story of Shiva? “Yes, except anything about the Lingam and the consumption of Bhang.” What about story of Durga? “Yes, Yes.” But moment I describe how Kali drinks blood I see eyebrows rise and gestures begging me to stop. “We are vegetarians.”

Every parent wants to control what their children must hear. Every celebrity wants to control what the media says about them. Is there a difference? Control is also exercised by those who profit by controlling media channels. One publisher of mine refused to publish my book on Krishna because what I wrote did not match his views on Krishna. “Skip all the violence part.” I refused. “Don’t say he killed. Say he liberated.” I refused. The publisher feared attack by fundamentalists. An uncomfortable point of view does not make profits. Naturally the book did not see the light of day. Thus the tales of our ancestors are edited and a very limited edition reaches the next generation. A whole volume of knowledge is ignored and sidelined because, “the children will not understand.”

I guess at the heart of censorship is this very patronizing attitude of control. We want to control the minds of others: we want to control what our fans, our children and our customers think about us. We forget that everyone is a free-thinking spirit and they can see beyond the media discourse and they can see beyond what parents tell, if they choose to. In Greek mythology, a hero is described as a human being who breaks free from the tyranny of the gods. Every human being, every child, can be a hero if they realize that the stories  they tell often have nothing to do with the truth but a lot to do with the bias of the storyteller and those who pay him/her.  But sadly, I also realize, that not everyone can be a hero. For many the censored and controlled story is the Truth.

  • I was at the library with my children when they were young and we saw a woman vetoing her child’s choices. One book after another failed to meet her standards. My older son looked at me and said, “You wouldn’t do that to me would you? That’s censorship!”

    The first thing that drew me to Hindu mythology was it’s openness about things that most “religious people” want swept under the rug. Coming from a Christian background, I was pleasantly surprised by the casual attitude the stories take about simple facts of life, such as a meditating sage becoming sexually aroused — when this is repressed rather than acknowledged, we end up with the scandals we see in the news.

  • Sanjay

    Pyaare Devduttji,

    You articles and thoughts have taught me to look at life with various perspective which are different from the traditional ones. It allowed me to see the message from the mythologies instead of arguing endlessly on what is true and what is not.

    You may not be aware of how your thoughts can shape a generation’s thinking process. And so if you have not got your book on Krishna published yet, you have the choice of publishing it on your website, bit by bit, chapter by chapter. I am sure you understand the reach and power of Internet.


  • bk

    the more you wanna hide… the more it shows…

  • Balsu


    What you said here is absolute truth and I subscribe to your way of thinking. What is left now in the society is more of idiosyncrasies than any reasoning behind the rituals and stories.

    I am angered with this society and humbly trying to do some of your work in my area too.

  • Mr. Devdutt

    Great writing and so true. “you cant handle the truth” is the clarion call of those who hold the truth, do the right thing, all because the common man is too stupid to do the right thing.

    This is not limited to any one religion, but true of most systems of belief.

    Have you considered self publishing your un published book? or releasing it under creative commons as many successful writers have done?



  • Jiger

    Reading your books and articles has helped me be more open-minded, especially when my understanding comes to Hinduism.

    Would you please share Krisha stories, mentioned in the article? No publisher can censor you online!

    • Devdutt

      You have to be a bit patient….as the retelling of Krishna’s tale is on the cards…a part of it will be told in a forthcoming book (2011): Seven Secrets of Vishnu

      • Ips

        Looking forward to this one.

      • Sumedha

        Good, waiting to celebrate another aspect of truth!!

        Just a request….even if u do happen to give up on the parents….kindly don’t give up on the children…. come out with some ‘Real Sizzlers’ for them… Kids can handle truth better than parents can handle their own imagination

  • We have learned to censor our mythologies because the rulers of India from 1000 AD started to censor us. Rather than have the muslim or christian rulers laugh at our scriptures, we decided to self-censor them – to avoid awkward questions.

    Our generation and that of our children, are educated in schools that teach in a foreign language, foreign culture, foreign thoughts and so, they find their ancestral attitudes foreign !!

    How sad !

    We do need to challenge this though and make sure we don’t hide the truth from ourselves or our children.

    Someone did ask me about Ling-worship and I eventually decided to write an article to make sure no one needs to be embarrassed about discussing this very simple aspect of Hinduism.


  • Kanu Deshpande

    This may be unsolicited advice, but I think you will be elevated to ‘god’ status yourself if you take on these gods!
    Please do write about gods. I think we deserve to know your views (so do some gods)!

  • D Balasubramaniam

    Challenging the Gods reminds me of Swami Vivekananda and his famous posture. The censorship was the start of creating an “ism” out of a way of life and this could have happened due to economic and political turbulence during each era. As you rightly pointed out the bias of the storyteller is critical – and many in our times promote sensationalism in the garb of speaking the facts of our gods!

  • Nirav

    On the topic of censorship, I think the reason this happens is our unwillingness to accept each other in our entirety – as both good and evil, right and wrong.

    While all of us do understand this duality at some level for ourselves, we don’t grant each other the same freedom.

    In this context, I thank you for your unbiased writing on mythology. I think it takes an effort to be non-judgmental, and it takes a bigger effort to be non-defensive while writing or explaining anything. Truly great writing!

  • Manjit

    Hello Sir,
    As usual a thought provoking article. The article is apt with your saying(which incidentally is one of of my fav saying):
    “Varuna has but a thousand eyes. Indra, a hundred. And I, only two”.

  • Aravind S Raamkumar

    excellent write-up