First City Magazine, New Delhi, July 2001
“Sex and violence are fundamentals of life. They rotate the cycle of life. Without sex, there is no life. There is violence every time we eat-when a fruit is plucked, a crop is harvested, an animal is killed. The Upanishads states that made up of the eaters and the eaten. Hence, Hindu gods specifically and oriental gods in general are often shown in both sexual and violent postures. Shiva, Vishnu, Ganesha, gods have spouses, several occasionally. In monastic orders, sex and violence are acknowledge through negation. No sex leads to vows of celibacy. No violence leads to fasting. With out sex and violence there is no world, no god. Denial of sex and violence is denial of life giving and life-taking processes. Bridling them with restraint (though different cultures have different standards) is the mark of civilization.”
Being a medical doctor, what prompted your interest in myth?
The former was learned (a social need), the latter was instinct – a gift of god (a natural urge).
Could you expound on the dialectics between science and mythology?
Science asks the question how-much answers the question why. Science will tell you how the sun rises, not why. Science will tell you how you breathe, not why. Science appeals to rationality, logic and reason. Myth appeals to belief. It is the latter, not the former, that gives identity, meaning and purpose to life.
Could you speak about the essential features of mythology?
Myth is a sacred idea expressed in narratives, symbols and rituals. Since the idea of sacredness, and by extension ‘divine’, cannot be explained rationally, it is often dismissed as ‘myth’ in the sense of absurd and fantastic. It communicates a worldview to an individual and a community. In this worldview it generates ideas of perfection (perfect age, perfect man) and of possibility (liberation, salvation, heaven, hell).
What has been the relevance of mythology through the ages?
Mythology has given every community a worldview and hence identity. The Hindu is different from the Christian because each one’s narratives imagerv and customs construct a different worldview. The formen’s sacred idea is that he is trapped in a cycle of rebirths. In the latter, he has one life, and only one chance to commune with one god. Considering the difference in approach to life, differences in behavior are bound to crop up. If we don’t appreciate the worldview, there is tension and confrontation.
Any predominant mythological paradigms?
Yes, the oriental (based on rebirth) or cyclical approach and the occidental (based on one life and hereafter) or linear approach to life.
What are the significant differences between oriental and occidental myths?
In the former the quest is to either go with the flow, make the flow in one’s favour or move out of the flow. In the latter, the quest is to obey the will of god as expressed in a commandment and revealed through a prophet.
What’s the deepest message of myth?
Without myth, there is no world out there. Myth creates an understanding of the world in the mind. Without it there is no sacredness, no profanity, no heaven, no hell, no sin, no redemption, no faith.. Ultimately life is a construct – a subjective creation in the mind. Our concepts of how the world should function, how man and woman should behave, how life should be all ‘shoulds’ are ultimately communicate directly or subtly through myth.
Is it important that mythological narratives, symbols and rituals be made contemporary? If so, why?
Since myth ‘constructs’ it can be deconstructed and reconstructed to satisfy the needs of time. Myths are constantly transforming to meet social and cultural demands. There is no such thing as an ‘original’, perfect of ‘static’ myth. The Ramayana written 2000 years ago and the Ramayana of Ramananda Sagar me not the same the latter was told meet modern needs. This is mythopoesis. Sometimes, a myth may not change but its interpretation changes with changes in the perception of people. The transformation of myth is not usually conscious. In fact, the power of myth comes only when it comes imbued with the area of being timeless and without dimension.
Are there any examples of ancient myth and/or ritual that have been transformed to relate to present-day reality?
Breaking coconuts or smashing pumpkins during house hold ceremonies has its roots in animal (and probably human) sacrifice – you give to get. But today – following the colonial influence the need to dissociate form any hint of ‘primitiveness’ and an inclination towards the more acceptable form of Hinduism (Vedanta), this ritual is being projected as a symbolic destruction of the ego.
In Indian mythology, what’s the contrast between Shaivism and Vaishnavism?What does Vishnu represent and what does Shiva represent?
Everything about Shiva is world renouncing he is the ascetic who does not want to be part of society. Everything about Vishnu is world affirming – he participates and performs in society. Back to top In Indian mythos, the God does has many faces, many forms, beginning with Kali who represents the deep instinctive life of the wilderness to Gauri, the humble, domesticated goddess.
Could you explain the essential feminine principles that are found in Indian Mythology?
In Hindu mythology, the feminine is identified with nature and all things material or worldly. Thus, while gods are visualized as performers: Shiva destroys, Vishnu sustains and Brahma create; the goddesses are visualized as possessions: Shakti is power, Lakshmi is wealth and Saraswati is knowledge.
Give us an insight into some of the fundamental Indian rituals and symbols. For example: What’s the significance of the use of coconut in most auspicious ceremonies or the use of the red bindi.
Red is the colour of fertile potential. A dot is the geometry of fertile potential. Thus the bindi of the woman, by extension goddess and earth, is ‘hot’ with the power to transform nature’s energy into life. But man has two options – reject it as Shiva or reject in it as Vishnu. Hence Shiva’s mark has o trace of the colour red and is made of ash (the remnant of destruction by fire). Vishnu’s mark has the red colour but it is contained by sandal paste (cooling substance) so that harmony is maintained.
How has the study of mythology affected your perception of life and things around you?
The more I realize what yoga says- the only thing one can control is the mind and since it is your mind that creates the world for you, you have control over the world. Ultimately, the world is a construct – Maya. Without this delusion, there is no reality.
What do you see when you look out of your window?
The hills of Hyderabad – I live on the foothills of Bangara Hills, my office is atop Jubilee Hills – the spot where the Mughal army camped before launching the attack on Golconda.
What kind of music do you listen to?
Classical, preferably or old Hindi film songs.
What’s your favorite time of day?
Bedtime- when the delusion gives way to dreams.
Do you ever give in to cynicism?
I realize when I am cynical that it is merely the result of my inability to accept reality – that I am stuck with some fantasy of the ‘ideal’.