“No society can exist without myth”

MG_1157Published on 4th July, 2016, in Hindustan Times
An interview by Namya Sinha.

Celebrated mythologist and author Devdutt Pattanaik is an authority on all things mythology. He wrote his first book on Shiva, 20 years ago and since then has been “joining the dots” on mythology.

In fact, he believes that “no society can exist without myth as it creates notions of right and wrong, good and bad, heaven and hell, rights and duties”.

As his latest book Devlok with Devdutt, based on the TV series he hosts, gears up for release, he makes some more thought provoking points. For instance, why don’t we have stories of men who like apsaras dance to seduce women?

Excerpts from his interview:

How important has mythology been in shaping our society? How relevant is mythology in today’s day and age?

Mythology is the subjective truth of people communicated through stories, symbols and rituals. Every culture has its own mythology. For example, the western society is a combination of polytheistic Greek mythology and monotheistic Abrahamic mythology. Indian society is shaped by rebirth mythologies that accommodate diversity, which is why there is so much cultural diversity in India. Compare this with ‘developed’ America and Europe that is terrified of Muslim immigrants. And Middle Eastern countries where non-Islamic religions are either not welcomed or held in suspicion.

Indian society is entrenched with patriarchy. However there was a time when women sages were as important as male sages. When did this shift happen with a patriarchal system coming in place?

All societies are patriarchal, not just the Indian society. Let us clarify that. Biblical and Islamic traditions continue to see God as a man, not a woman, despite feminism. Sages were expected to be celibate, which means the rejection of female sexuality. I find nothing empowering about it. It is hardly aspirational. Why don’t we have stories of men who like Apsaras dance to seduce women? Now, that would show a shift, no? In fact, patriarchy in India glorifies male celibacy and rejects female sexuality. It continues today and continues to be endorsed.

Can a society work without mythological stories?

No society can exist without myth. Humans cannot function without myths because myth creates notions of right and wrong, good and bad, heaven and hell, rights and duties. Marriages, monogamy, peace, salvation non-violence, are all concepts based on myth; they don’t exist in nature. All religions, all nations, all tribes, all ideologies, all ways of life, are based on myth. Human right is based on the myth of equality. Only a world without humans is a world without myths.

Are science and mythology connected?

No. Science seeks to understand society using a measurement, rather than faith. Mythology is about reality based on faith. Science is about the material world. Humanities, including psychology, use the scientific method to understand society, but they are not comparable with material sciences, where measurability, verifiability and reproducibility play an important role. Mythology establishes world views that determine our politics and economics.

Your TV series, Devlok with Devdutt will be now out as a book. How will this book make mythology interesting and relevant to a reader?

The book is an English translation of the Hindi conversations on the show, hence serves as a reference book for those who enjoyed the series and want to share it with their friends and family.