Most of us grew up reading age-old fairy tales - Red Riding Hood, Snow White, Sleeping Beauty, and later classic literature like Shakespeare. And yet, very few of us are also equally well-versed with the Indian Mythology. We know all the names of Snow White’s seven dwarfs and yet not the names of the Pandavas. But this isn’t our fault, due to colonialism and the western-influence at large, we’ve been pigeon-holed into respecting texts written only in English.
However, it isn’t too late to realize what we might have been missing out on. We are fortunate to have been left with a treasure trove of stories that date back to being some of the oldest writings in the world. What is more amazing about these texts is that they are all the more relatable now than ever before - making them evergreen classics. (Not all aspects of our lives remain the same, for instance our societies are not as patriarchal as they might seem in the societies of the mythologies or even the fairytales for that matter.)
Have you ever tried watching the first technicolour Bollywood film: Aan from 1952? When you do you will realize how much our lifestyles have changed from that of our grandparents. Now imagine, how brilliant a writer or TV director must be to create narratives that are pertinent not only through a couple generations but across millenniums.
In addition to the impressive degree of relevancy that these texts showcase, there are many more reasons as to why now is a good time to get yourself acquainted with Indian mythology. Some of them are the following:-
Helps decipher and develop a moral compass.
So far we have been taught to be independent, individualistic and “follow our passions at any cost,” however now, the order of the day today is quite the opposite. The only way that our current pandemic can be fought, is if the whole-world sacrifices their otherwise wholesome lifestyle to stay indoors and self-isolate for weeks at end. With every person that goes outside to selfishly address his/her own needs, they are putting their neighbouring and families at high-risk of disease and potential death.
However, the Mahabharata depicts a legendary conversation between Arjuna and Krishna that explores similar concepts of selfishness vs. selflessness, duty vs. desire, actions vs. thoughts, right vs. wrong. While the answer is that there is no “right” answer, their story teaches the reader how to be able to draw the line between two conflicting choices and pick the more correct stance. Also compiled to form the “Bhagvat Gita,” this conversation between Arjuna and Krishna is thrilling in its attempt to help you make sense of the larger working of the world and the inner working of your mind.
Teaches you how to deal with obstacles.
With Ram and the Pandavas who are forced into 14 and 13 years of exile respectively, we learn of how the toughest obstacles we face are not fair and do not come with guides and manuals. When life takes unexpected turns, what troubles us the most is the unavailability of answers. Unfortunately, these answers are not always mathematically or scientifically derived. However, the Mahabharata and the Ramayana attempt to answer some of our questions about life and our raison d'être through its characters who go through trials and tribulations in effect similar to our contemporary ups and downs. The characters in these two texts attempt to find answers to these questions through knowledge, wisdom, and philosophy thus inspiring their readers to rise and strive again - despite the number of times we are made to fall.
There is always more than meets the eye.
Our mythologies are resplendent with paradoxes. They highlight the importance of realizing that the world is not black and white, and also helps the reader to understand conflicting opinions. Through situational examples and eloquent storytelling, the lessons that our mythologies draw out can be applied in real life. For instance, Lord Ganesha is said to move around on his pet mouse (as also drawn in every depiction of him). While most people would think it is almost cruel to ride around on a mouse, Ganesha’s story teaches us to not be judgemental and jump into negative conclusions so quickly.
His mouse is a metaphor for greed as mice are always hungry and will eat anything. By keeping it under the foot, Lord Ganesha aims to symbolize that one must always keep greed in check. Paradoxically, his big belly is often misunderstood for greed, but it is to show his huge capacity to stomach all experiences of life - the happy and sad - with equal acceptance. Interestingly, the other two figures we look up to for joy and learning: Santa Claus and Laughing Buddha - both have the same striking feature of a big belly. Now you know why? ;)
While we may not be able to read the original versions of the mythologies - there have been several adaptations old and new, through books and movies that we can acquaint ourselves with. If not for any moralistic reason, one can read them only for their captivating plots and their intricately detailed personalities.