No society can exist without myths: Devdutt

Devdutt Pattanaik is a mythologist, author, speaker and illustrator. He writes on the relevance of mythology in modern times, especially in areas of management, governance and leadership. Trained in medicine, he worked for 15 years in the healthcare and pharma industries before he devoted himself to his passion full time. He is the author of 30 books and 600 columns, with a number of bestsellers such as My Gita, Jaya, Sita, Business Sutra and the 7 Secrets series. He was a speaker at TEDIndia 2009 and spoke on Myths that Mystify, East versus West. His TV shows such as Business Sutra on CNBC-TV18 and Devlok on Epic TV are very well received. Along with that, he is also a consultant for organisations on culture, diversity and leadership and also for various television channels and filmmakers on mythological storytelling.
Radhika Tiwari

Mythology refers to the collected myths of a number of people and is such a vast and hyperbolic concept. What made you so passionate about it?
Mythology never fascinated me in childhood. In fact, I was in my early 20s when I discovered my love for everything mythic. I enjoyed going back to those eras and found it very organic. Though I had never thought about it, at that time, it was just a medium to escape reality and find comfort. Just as people nowadays have Harry Potter, I had my mythological tales with me.

As a mythologist, what is there on your reading list?
I only read encyclopaedias. I don’t enjoy fiction or non-fiction much. But if I ever have to read something from another genre, then they also need to be in the encyclopaedic form.

Mythological concept differs from nation to nation. So, what is it that makes Indian mythology different from any other ancient mythology, say, Greek or Abrahamic?
The basic difference is that Greek and other Abrahamic mythology do not hold the notion of rebirth and therefore they have this very sense of urgency and achievement. They earnestly believe in the ‘Day of Judgement’. Whereas in Hindu mythology, nobody is judging you. Whatever you do in one life, you will have to repay its debt in another life. So, when you are continuously paying debts of your past karmas there is no need for a judge.

But our pragmatic side does not allow us to confirm our beliefs in any superficial tale without solid evidences. So, what is the need for mythology? Why do we need mythology in our lives?
See, justice is a mythological concept. There is no such thing as justice in nature. Again, there is nothing like justice, but we imagine this idea of justice. And on the basis of those abstract ideas, we create several other moral and ethical rules and regulations. Another such instance is of property. Even property is not a natural concept.

Just like justice, it is yet another outcome of the humanely constructed notion. Likewise, we often talk about freedom struggle of colonial India but what is freedom really? Freedom from whom? It is just because we have assumed it to be our land. This is certainly not the reality. From the philosophical point of view, who decides the ownership of the land? Apart from these examples, heaven, hell, equality all are nothing but mythical ideas. We just don’t call them that and that is exactly what mythology talks about. Hence, no society can truly exist without mythology. It is a disregarded yet an integral part of our civilisation which gives sense and shape to human life.

Lastly, of all the mythological books that you have written which one is your favourite and why? Also, what’s new in store for your readers?
Just as every author likes all of his works, similarly, I love all of my books but my last project always turns out to be more exciting than the previous ones. If books were to be called children, then apparently I have got thirty children. It is quite difficult to go for any one of them. As for my future projects, they include a book on Abrahamic Mythology and a TV show on Hanuman. I am looking forward to them.