Sarika Salil Jha
I have enjoyed reading Dr. Devdutt Pattanaik's books and my mother is an avid viewer of his programme ‘Devlok' by Devdutt Pattanaik’ a very popular programme on the Indian television channel ‘EPIC’. When I came to know that he would be visiting the Jaipur Literature Festival 2017, I knew I had to be there. The session was on ‘Olympus: An Indian Retelling of Greek Myths’. This is Devdutt’s maiden attempt at exploring the Greek mythology. Devdutt Pattanaik was in conversation with Amrita Tripathi, an effervescent and articulate senior journalist and the writer of ‘The Sibius Knot’ (Check out the Pinned Tweet on her handle!).
Putting our heads together!
Amrita began by asking, why Devdutt decided to venture into Greek mythology after writing vastly on Hindu mythology. Devdutt’s candid reply was, that he wanted to write ‘Olympus’ ten years back but his publishers warned him against it as they said it would not sell. He was told to write on Indian mythology. He said now that he had made a mark as writer, it was time to fulfil his dream. The ‘Olympus’ presents Devdutt’s perspective of the Greek myths as he says, I have no respect for objectivity (sic.)
Amrita further asked him if he saw discernible similarities between the Indian and the Greek mythology? He said that he did feel that there are certain similarities between the two but they are not the same. He spoke about the following similarities between the two- Olympus is the home of the Greek gods, much like Amravati of the Hindu devas. Zeus, leader of the Olympians, wields a thunderbolt like Indra, and rides an eagle like Vishnu. The feats of the Greek hero Heracles, known to Romans as Hercules, remind many of Krishna, as does his name, ‘Hari-kula-esha’ or lord of the Hari clan. The Greek husband Menelaus sailing across the sea to bring his wife, Helen, back from Troy is strikingly similar to the story of Ram rescuing Sita from Lanka. However, he said, the stark difference is that Sita was kidnapped by Ravana whereas Helen willingly left with Paris, the prince of Troy.
Devdutt Pattnaik says there is a vast difference in the western and Indian concept of a hero. The hero in Greek mythology has an arc of growth, be it Odysseus, Hercules or Perseus. The heroes go on a long arduous journey, encounter the demons, the witches, the storms and other natural calamities which test his mental and physical skill. The Greek hero has to overcome all greed and destroy every obstruction that blocks his path to glory.
In Hindu mythology God is the hero whose life is cyclic and never ending There is no arc of growth. Lord Rama is always the obedient son. He doesn’t return a spoilt brat after his Lanka visit. Similarly lord Krishna is the hero in a naughty avatar who remains the same till the very end. God or the the hero ascends the earth as a common man to end human suffering. At this moment I could hear the famous shloka from the Bhagwad Gita ringing in my head-
In the shloka lord Krishna tells Arjun, Whenever there is decay of righteousness, and there is exaltation of unrighteousness, then he himself comes forth to save us. Devdutt further added that the Hindu avatar lives among the ordinary men and women, pretends to suffer run-of-the-mill human emotions like pain, suffering, joy in a lifetime till his task on earth is done.
The author made a significant statement at this juncture. He said these days we have subscibed to the Greek or the western idea of success which is achieving success at all cost.
In the west, the ordinary struggle to become extraordinary whereas in the Hindu mythology the remarkable and indestructible is born as ordinary.I was deep in thought, mulling over what he had just said but was jolted out of my reverie as I heard a disinterested youngster remark, “When will this end?” and his ‘snap chatting’ friend said, “pata nahi” (I don’t know).
Well I thought there are some people in India who do not subscribe to the western idea of success. They certainly would not venture out on a difficult journey in search of an extraordinary life. 😅