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“For Many People, God Is A Fact. For Others, It Is Not”: In Conversation With Devdutt Pattanaik

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By Artika Raj:

“A friend of my mine told me that I have the gift of associative logic. That I can see patterns easily in mythology and map them to patterns found in other domains like business and politics. It was not learned. It is something intuitive to me. The point is to see the underlying patterns of human behaviour and human communication.”

devdutt book

He’s the quintessential storyteller. His stories are simple, the wisdom of the myths brought home. At a TED Talk in 2009 he told us of Ganesha and Kartikeya competing in a race to circle the world, only for Ganesha to emerge victorious as he quickly circles around his parents, Shiva and Parvati, thrice, while the warlord Kartikeya decides to go jet-setting around the continents and the mountains. Ganesha’s victory lies in a simple explanation. While Kartikeya decides to race around ‘The World’, for Ganesha it is ‘My World’, his parents, who are the right choice. The ‘root cause of the clash of civilizations’ succinctly explained. Our need to view the world in terms of ‘my’ world and ‘your’ world. The need that is there as ‘each culture customises its own version of mythology’, their own view of the world, to understand the ‘myth that we live in’, Devdutt Pattanaik’s oeuvre of work as a renowned mythologist, motivational speaker, illustrator, leadership consultant and novelist is one way to start on the journey.

With the latest in the popular 7 Secret Series, ‘7 Secrets of the Goddess’ out now, a book that looks and demystifies popular assumptions about the figure of the goddess, Youth Ki Awaaz gets the author that is on everyone’s must-read-on-Sunday list, Devdutt Pattanaik to share with us some of his ideas…

On the wisdom of the ancients:

We make mythology more exotic and mystical than it is. These are just stories, symbols and rituals that communicate a subjective truth of a people. They are transmitted by communities over generations to establish a worldview. Tribes do it. Corporations do it. Nation states do it. Some use supernatural elements. Others don’t. It is obvious to the eyes that can see the humanity beneath the ‘savage’ and the ‘scientist’. We are conditioned to deny this humanity to the ancients. We see ourselves as different, more/less evolved, and that division prevents people from finding contemporary meaning in the oldest of stories.

On mythology and what we understand as ‘fact’:

Ideas like heroes, villains, and victims are not facts. They are assumptions. We equate assumptions with fact. I call them mythology. The idea of what is fact and what is not varies with communities. For many people, God is a fact. For others, it is not. For many, science is the only truth. For others, that is a limiting truth. We assume physical data as fact as it is measurable but what about psychological data which cannot ever be measured. Is our feeling, our dreams, our emotions, our hopes, merely fiction because no instrument can measure it? We live in a world where obsession with things over thoughts blinds us to other ways of looking at the world. That is not wisdom. That is not education: that is indoctrination.

On why and how polarised perspectives are formed, and why we consume them easily:

A polarised perspective is formed because we are so spellbound by frameworks and paradigms of European and American universities, that we apply them blindly to Indian social reality and mythic traditions. The result is a warped understanding of Indian thought, designed to make Indians ashamed of themselves, and embrace ‘modern ideas’ which on closer observation turn out to be exclusionary, pompous and lacking wisdom.

About an interview where he said “…the violent struggle between the older and the younger generation in which the younger always wins. But in the process, the wisdom of the past is lost”:

This refers to the Western model where the child is seen as progress and the parent is seen as outdated, to be wiped out, kept away in senior citizen homes. The West imagines itself as a linear movement out of mythology through religion to rationality. In reality, it is a cyclical movement where old mistakes are repeated. Thus contemporary society with rising rational atheism refuses to see how it functions in the cynical Greco-Roman paradigm that existed before Christendom. We forget our past and so repeat it. Such is the nature of Western society.  In Indian society all things exist simultaneously like a layered cake, giving the illusion of chaos.

On women “becoming a prey” and the “fear of dharma that keeps men in check”, of which he talks about in his book ‘The Pregnant King’:

In the context of the book, dharma is seen as code of conduct. Code of conduct changes with space and time. For most people dharma is niti (law) and riti (tradition). But dharma is a concept – of realizing human potential. Animals prey on the weak. Humans can help the helpless. When humans succumb to our animal urges, it is adharma. When we rise above our animal urges, it is dharma. But this is a personal journey. It cannot be enforced on others. Only niti and riti can be enforced on others to create what we imagine to be a civilised society.

On the absence of Mythology as a subject of study in Indian universities:

No Indian university has a department of mythology. There in one PG Diploma Course in the Sanskrit Department of Mumbai University. The focus is more on comparative storytelling rather than analysis. In universities abroad, this is a subject associated with sociology, religion or psychoanalysis. No one has a holistic view of the subject as it was held in disdain by ‘science’ revealing the exclusionary nature of rational thought.

On why he thinks his stories are so popular among us, the youth of today:

Surprisingly the modern youth is more interested in my reading than traditional elders perhaps because I question and explore everything and want to understand the logic underlying belief.

On the rebel youth icon Shiva:

Shiva is indifferent to rules. That is not the same as opposing rules (rebel). The youth oppose rules; they think smoking pot makes them ‘Shiva’. Those who choose to be indifferent to rules cannot be part of society. They cannot take up responsibility for others. They end up living isolated lives atop inhospitable un-inhabitable mountain peaks. To be part of society, they have to submit to the rules, marry as Shiva does, which is a metaphor for social engagement and world affirmation.

 Interview conducted by Ananya Barua.

You must be to comment.
  1. Babar

    Atheists themselves do not believe in the Big Bang and Evolution theories, and are still ‘searching’ for a way to ‘prove’ God’s absence. A disbelief in God means that you are free from moral obligations. Also, a popular reason for not believing in God is sorrow in people’s lives, where people start hating God – you can’t hate what does not exist.

    With a rise in atheism and decline in the belief in God, the world is moving towards a materialistic and hedonistic way of life, where money and pleasure are God. As Godlessness prevails, we can see a rise in anxiety pills and anxiety pills, which are now thriving as multi-million dollar businesses, not to mention drug and alcohol abuse.

    God reveals that he exists through his beautiful and magnificent creation. There is more than enough evidence to prove that God exists – the sun, moon, stars, birds, fishes, animals, trees, flowers, the human body, rotation of planets with flawless precision, the internal and external organs, the manner in which a drop of semen wonderfully transforms itself into a baby in the womb – all point towards God. I can cite more examples but for those who want to believe, no signs are necessary. For those who don’t want to believe, no signs are enough.

    1. TheSeeker

      No point arguing with you about this bro :D. I won’t even try. Atleast have some respect for both atheists and theists.

    2. Wanderer

      Belief or disbelief in God is a very personal choice and one needs to respect that choice. Just as an atheist can’ tell a theist to not believe in God, same thing applies to a theist too.
      Also, the sole cause of sorrows and anxieties in people’s life isn’t the absence of belief in God because if that were the case, believers of God would never suffer which isn’t true.
      And its not only a drop of semen that transforms into a baby,its only happens when it fuses with the ovum .

    3. Ashwin

      I agree with many of the reason you have pointed out for a person to become an atheist.It can be due to depression or simply to get out of moral obligations.
      Well if we look deep down , we can find that there are no much difference between an atheist and a theist.Both of them cannot say that the forces that are in the universe,such as love,anger,mother nature,etc are not true.The only difference is that theists believe that a person is in control of the universe,while the atheists believe only what they see in real life.The things that happen in real life are all just forces from the universe which is a result of choices and actions.Theist believe that the universe is God,while the atheists see the universe as it is.
      At the bottom line what ever religion says have also got scientific implications to it.
      Hence science and religion go hand in hand.Every one in the universe believes in a superior power,it may be God,the universe,love,destiny,etc.Hence both atheists and theists believe in a force,but only through different eyes.

    4. AMAN

      Well believing there has to be a creator is one thing and then wanting to please him by ways of visiting him or providing him offering and kneeling in front of him so that he has you in his Good books is a different thing..Atheist just say we are just another evolution in animals…we have got strong brains they have something else in you have evidence of animals believing into GOD..No they live there life as it goes…same is for human as well ..introduction of GOD was to ensure people follow moral code of conduct properly as else the rules would be more like the Laws of the land which people break or often love to break easily as they fell it is just made my men…Where as in religious books when rules are said to be made by GOD then they become like non adherence would lead to wrath from GOD…This is a simplest logic that can be assumed from all the religion…But in the end what you do with your life is all that matters…Mahatma Gandhi was a Thesist believed in God and lived his life for nation and was killed is remembered as a Great Freedom fighter ..On the other hand Bhagat Singh was an Atheist who again chose to fight for freedom and was hanged ..He too is remembered as a Great Freedom fighter…Moral of the story what you perceive and choose to make your life is what it becomes…People are just there and will be there and later your life may be judged as Good or Bad …But what you lived until you die is all that matters.. Belief or non belief in a super natural thing like GOD doesn’t really matters

    5. Amrit

      I agree- but you are talking about Spinoza’s God. Of course he exists, as surely as the universe does. But how do you jump from that god to a god that listens to prayers, cares about what people do with their genitals, what clothes they wear, etc.? The blooming of semen from a drop to a fully sentient being is not evidence to an agent, just like apples falling to the ground are not evidence to a Gravity Deva who WANTS them to fall to the ground.

      Secondly- atheists are no more out to prove god’s absence than you are out to prove the unicorn’s, elf’s or leprachaun’s. What matters to them more is epistemology- how do you know the things to claim to be true. If you have nothing more than a 4000-year old text or the evidence of a personal experience- sorry, your knowledge is not true for the world and cannot be accepted as fact.

  2. Karan

    I think all of these issues will be solved when science resolve how brain works. what ever theist got is coming from brain and nothing solid. and calling the physical facts indoctrination is false. end of the day love,hate,our feeling, our dreams, our emotions, our hopes are just chemicals in brain. these are the firewalls of brain that don’t allow rational thoughts.
    Hey and if you believe in god you will leave a happier life as you always have some false hope to lean on, you always have that parent that is all powerful. isnt that we think about our parents when we are children?
    For all human emotions analysis we have philosophy. don’t mix it with science.philosophy of course have root in chemicals in brain but that is never the point of philosophy

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