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The Asian Age - - Books -

When it is rain­ing “mythol­ogy” left, right and cen­tre and the poor read­ers are al­most drown­ing in this tsunami of tales, the ques­tion nat­u­rally arises, “Why one more?” “Which one to pick and why?” Well, a cur­sory look at this moun­tain of “mytho­log­i­cal tales” and a se­ri­ous read­ing of these two books, The Up­side Down King and Ash­tamahishi, one thing is clear — the au­thors and pub­lish­ers are tar­get­ing the young ur­ban au­di­ence, de­prived of story- telling ses­sions by their grand­par­ents, es­pe­cially chil­dren liv­ing out­side In­dia.

While the first book by Sudha Murty cov­ers Rama as well as Kr­ishna, the sec­ond book, as is ev­i­dent from the ti­tle, fo­cuses only on Kr­ishna and his wives. Both Rama and Kr­ishna are be­lieved to be the hu­man in­car­na­tions of Vishnu but present en­tirely dif­fer­ent shades of hu­man na­ture. Rama, wor­shipped as an ideal man, son and ruler, was de­voted to his wife, Sita. His ac­tions and thoughts were shaped by dharma and dharma only.

Shad­don Pal­lock opines that Rama’s life is a tale of a di­vine hu­man and a master­piece that of­fers a frame­work to rep­re­sent, con­cep­tu­alise and com­pre­hend the world and the na­ture of life. Rama’s reign, Rama Ra­jya, was per­fect with no crime, poverty or dis­crim­i­na­tion. Or was it re­ally so? Was jus­tice done to Sita?

Un­like the monog­a­mous Rama, Kr­ishna is a ro­man­tic, polyg­a­mous man. Rama is se­ri­ous but Kr­ishna is play­ful. Rama had only one en­emy but Kr­ishna had mul­ti­ple en­e­mies. Kr­ishna, re­garded as a Purna- avatar, a com­bi­na­tion of Vishnu, Narayana and Kr­ishna, is the god of com­pas­sion and love. Rama is all dharma and Kr­ishna is only love and love.

Is it a sheer co­in­ci­dence or a de­lib­er­ate at­tempt on the part of the au­thor to start her book, The Up­side Down King with the story of a di­vine cow?

In her sim­ple nar­ra­tion of sto­ries,

Sudha Murty, in or­der to present a hu­man side, has tried to in­still some logic, some ra­tio­nal ex­pla­na­tion to the use of cer­tain cus­toms, be­liefs and prac­tices. Why do peo­ple use ex­pres­sions like “Ram­a­bana”, “Nak­sha­trakal” and “Tr­is­hanku”? What is nimisha and why it is called so? Why do we dis­trib­ute wealth on the tenth day of Ash­way­ija?

Why the shami tree is called the tree of gold?

And Ra­vana was af­ter all not an evil force which mytho­log­i­cal his­tory has made out to be. His ten heads sym­bol­ised ten- fold knowl­edge and he was cred­ited with many tal­ents in­clud­ing the cre­ation of a game called

Chat­u­ranga.

Sudha Murty has also re­ferred to var­i­ous ver­sions of Ra­mayana. In the

Jain Ra­mayana, Lak­sh­mana, not Rama, bat­tles against Ra­vana, kills him and brings Sita back to her hus­band. In Thai­land,

Hanu­man is not a brahm­chari but has many part­ners, like Kr­ishna.

Kr­ishna and his eight wives is the cen­tral idea of the book by Radha

Viswanath but she has tried to present a nega­tion of the pa­tri­ar­chal sys­tem through the use of an­other age- old cus­tom, that is, swayam­vara.

Out­wardly it seemed that women were given a choice to choose their hus­band but in re­al­ity it was a sham.

Daugh­ters of royal fam­i­lies were used as pawns to achieve political ob­jec­tives. Kr­ishna, whose mis­sion was to re- es­tab­lish dharma, op­posed this cus­tom and ar­gued that should be based on mu­tual re­spect, love and trust.

Kr­ishna mar­ried eight women and gave pro­tec­tion to 16,100 women. But why did Kr­ishna marry so many times’? In fact, in one year he mar­ried four times.

The an­swer is sim­ple, “What can Kr­ishna do if princesses send emis­saries re­quest­ing him to come and marry them” ( page 136). “They were the ones who chose him as their hus­band. He only re­spected and hon­oured their de­sire. How could he be faulted for that?” ( page 139). In fact Kr­ishna’s wives re­garded them­selves as the lucky flow­ers who had reached his feet.

D. Den­nis Hud­son views Kr­ishna’s eight wives ( ash­tamahishi) as a metaphor where each wife sig­ni­fies a dif­fer­ent as­pect of him. The In­dian nar­ra­tives ar­gue that eight wives were in fact eight Lak­sh­mis — Adi, Dhana, San­tana, Veera, Vidiya, Gaja, Dhanya and Vijaya ( Sudha Murty, page 156). To marry them was a part of dharma.

But what is dharma and ad­harma? Was it proper to abduct women? Is it wrong to seek re­venge? Is Kr­ishna a God or who is God? Radha Viswanath, while pre­sent­ing Kr­ishna’s wives, has touched upon the phi­los­o­phy of life as well. The book is full of pearls of wis­dom and mys­ti­cal ques­tions.

Can we talk about Kr­ishna with­out men­tion­ing Radha? Alas, there is just a fleet­ing men­tion of her name. If the book was on Kr­ishna’s wives only then why did the au­thor cover Drau­padi in de­tail? The filmi de­scrip­tion of the chap­ters ir­ri­tates you.

The only char­ac­ter which comes alive is of Satyab­hama. She ap­pears to be real, al­ways ques­tion­ing Kr­ishna and pro­vid­ing some life to an oth­er­wise bland book. The same goes for the first book.

It seems to be quite a jour­ney for Sudha Murty from Dol­lar Bahu and Three Thou­sand Stitches to mythol­ogy writ­ing. She is so oc­cu­pied churn­ing out books on mythol­ogy that some of the chap­ters are of one page only, less than 300 words. You start read­ing a story and lo and be­hold, it ends within a nimish ( a sec­ond). Ra­vana is given a good cov­er­age from page 47 to 72. I think her next book will be on Ra­vana.

Well, if you ask me, you can read both the books, but only once.

Kul­bir Kaur teaches so­ci­ol­ogy at Shyama Prasad Mukherji Col­lege, Delhi Univer­sity

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