Devdutt Pattanaik writes on relevance of mythology in modern times. Trained in medicine, he worked for 15 years in the healthcare and pharma industries before he plunged full time into his passion. Author of 50 books and 1000 columns, with several bestsellers, he is known for his TED talks, his TV shows especially Devlok, and his innovative views on culture, leadership and Indian approach to management. As any issue on mythology would be incomplete without any input from Devdutt Pattanaik , the Fundamatics editorial team reached out to him with few questions that we thought would be interesting for our readers. We are fortunate that he agreed to respond to queries. Hope that you, our readers, will find his replies and comments illuminating, as we did. The illustrations used in his article are by Devdutt Pattanaik.
In the age of Alternate Facts and Fake News, Fundamatics thought it would be interesting to devote an issue to Folklore and Mythology. This is not an attempt at being flippant but to an honest effort to bring together a collection of diverse stories from various parts of the country. Folklore is how a People imagine their past and themselves. Folk tales become icons of cultures, and in turn, cultures get manufactured around these tales. The tales are told in various art forms – storytelling, singing, theatre, paintings, sculpture and handicraft – and in turn these art forms shape the tales. We are constrained here to limit ourselves to the written word but the written word is no mean instrument – as we shall see* (hum dekhenge ).
When humankind attained wisdom and knew all that is good and bad. There was born the teller of tales; a small tribe of people (men and women), who watched and observed what no one saw. Creative, imaginative, highly skilled and having a perfect understanding of the human psyche, these people have the ability to touch the human heart with their words alone. To weave tales, by laying the selective warp and weft of time and space. Piece by piece, word by word, they build up perfect universes out of nothingness. Like a conjuring artist. They transpose the partakers in a time and place removed from the present. This ability gives them immense power, for unknown even to themselves they can mould and shape the thoughts of an entire generation. Call them influencers if you will.
Illustration 1: Nabagunjara Patachitra painting by Shri Kalu Charan Barik. Photo credit: Abhimanyu Barik
The Patachitra traditions of Odisha are replete with artistic, cultural, and symbolic connotations. The stories from the eighteen Mahapuranas, Upa-puranas, Mahābhārata, and other epics are the core of the Patachitra lineage in Odisha. These tales from the oral or the verbal classical and folk traditions when translated into the visual medium through art, become richer and highly emblematic. Imaginative terrains associated with these artistic mediums have storytelling as their central motif. There have been several discursive papers, books, and reflection articles that narrate the stories that are depicted in Patachitras, and of late there is a renewed interest in the Puranic stories especially those concerning animals and their interpretations in paintings and other new mediums. This article focuses on one such aspect of the Patachitra’s storytelling tradition which is a recurrent motif in several paintings made in this style from the ancient times to its contemporary expressions – the story of the Nabagunajara (in colloquial Odia) or the Navagunjara besa (form/attire). Over the past decade, there has been a massive interest in understanding the story of the Nabagunjara. Devdutt Pattanaik created popular interest in the word Nabagunjara with a brief mention of the tale in his book Indian Mythology: Tales, Symbols, and Rituals from the Heart of the Subcontinent (2003). There has been a persistent interest in the Internet world to narrate the symbolic as well as the artistic meanings concealed within the story of the Nabagunajara. Stray articles with limited research have been circulating on the Internet with half-baked reflections on the Nabagunjara.
The battle of Karbala was fought in the desert of Karbala in central Iraq in 61 AH (680 AD). During the Karbala battle, the Shia leader and Prophet Muhammad’s grandson, Imam Husayn, along with his family and troops, was tortured and killed by the troops of the Sunni leader, the Umayyid caliph, Yazid. The tragic climax of a long-drawn war of inheritance between the prophetic line and the caliphate, the martyrdom of Imam Husayn and his family is commemorated during the first month of the Hijri calendar, Muharram. The Karbala ritual, as this kind of commemoration has come to be called, was first institutionalised by the Buyid dynasty in tenth-century Iran. From there, the ritual has spread far and wide throughout the Islamicate world, including in Bengal, which before the Partition of 1947 was a Shia-minority region.
Mythology in the Modern Age
Guided by the hands of Reason and Science, one would imagine the modern age has little place for endless epics, speculative reflections and metaphysical meanderings. While Mythology may have occupied centre stage in times of yore, one may well ask what place it has in today’s world. The answer is more complex than it appears.
One area where Mythology has wielded a heavy hand is during the Indian Freedom Movement. From influencing the methods and philosophy of leaders like Gandhi and Tilak, to providing a subject upon which artists built nationalist visions, Mythology became the guiding force of History.
This is a prayer that children, especially in a vaishnavaite home, are taught to recite before embarking on any learning activity. Knowledge is held on a high pedestal all across the globe. And the Indian tradition acknowledges this great value of knowledge by paying respects to the divinity associated with this facet of life by offering verses of praise and worshipping through rituals and festivals.
Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru addresses the crowd in Delhi on the occasion of India’s 14th Independence Day on 17 August 1960. Above him flies the national flag of India. Image source: Link
October, 2019 – November, 2019
A constitution is a political document, framing the aspirations of a people. Far from being a record of the already-achieved, it is effectively a charter of aims and desires, of what a nation strives to be. From 2016 to 2018, IIT Bombay had hosted a series of talks on the Indian Constitution by some of India’s most eminent jurists. Five talks have been chosen for this issue that reflects both general constitutional questions as well as specific concerns – an overview of constitutional issues, gender justice, constitutionality and the death penalty, critical judgments on fundamental and human rights and challenges posed to constitutional freedoms by new technologies. The original audio recordings of all the five talks can be accessed from this page.
Nehru signing the Constitution of India. Image Source: link
The Constitution of any country is really a political document. It brings into existence a body politic, a state, and defines what the various organs of the state are to be, what their assigned functions are, and so to say draws the Lakshman Rekha around each organ of the body politic. The interesting thing is what the Preamble of the Constitution of India says. This is what the Preamble says, “We the people of India having solemnly resolved to constitute India into a sovereign, socialist, secular democratic republic”. I may add here that the words ‘socialist’ and ‘secular’ were not there originally, they were added during the emergency, “and to secure to all its citizens justice, social, economic and political, liberty of thought, expression, belief, faith and worship, fraternity assuring the dignity of the individual and the unity and integrity of the nation, in our Constituent Assembly this 26th day of November 1949 do hereby adopt, enact and give unto ourselves this Constitution.” In 1949, this was brought into force and the Republic was constituted on the 26th of January, 1950 which we celebrate as Republic Day.
Eleven out of the fifteen women who helped draft the Indian Constitution. The names of the fifteen women in an alphabetical order: Ammu Swaminathan, Annie Mascarene, Begum Aizaz Rasul, Dakshayani Velayudhan, Durgabai Deshmukh, Hansa Jivraj Mehta, Kamla Chaudhary, Leela Roy, Malati Choudhury, Purnima Banerjee, Rajkumari Amrit Kaur, Renuka Ray, Sarojini Naidu, Sucheta Kriplani and Vijalakshami Pandit. Image source: link
Briefly, the Constitution is divided into 25 Parts. Today I will refer only to Part III which lists fundamental rights. Most fundamental rights are expressed with reference to the individual and a few to groups but all ultimately afford protection to every individual. Part III contains several Articles (Art. 12-35) but for today, I will refer to only the most basic which underlies all other rights and that is the positive right to one’s identity. Of all the characteristics that make up the identity of an individual, some are of the no choice kind which we are born with and have no hand in determining like gender, race and physical/mental attributes. The other non-physical parts of our identities are accidental and in that sense external such as religion, social or economic — a status which we may have been born into which are changeable but which nevertheless form part of our identities. The right to one’s identity takes within its ambit the rights to equality, not to be discriminated against, the right to live with dignity and to have the freedom to speak, associate with others, move and settle anywhere within India, think freely and profess or not profess any religion. Each of these aspects of one’s identity is expressly protected by the Constitution. Logically and constitutionally, therefore, every person’s identity is necessarily equally important. Nothing offends more than being treated differently on the basis of any aspect of one’s identity for no discernible reason. And yet there can be no doubt that we were and are unjustifiably treated differently by society. Differences were imposed by social and religious traditions which may have had their roots in some historical or other circumstances which are no longer relevant. Yet after 1950 while legally doing away with such inherited differences, the Constitution itself apparently permits differences. Thus while Article 14, mandates that the State shall not deny anyone equality before and protection of the law, the very next two Articles allow the State to make special provisions for women, children, Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes and Backward classes. Special educational rights are also conferred constitutionally on linguistic and religious minorities. These special provisions are acceptable because they are based on reason, not belief, the reason being that in order to bring about true or substantive as opposed to formal equality, the socially or numerically disadvantaged will have to be given special rights to create what has been called ‘a level playing field’.