Abstract: The concept of Shiva, the God as a hero, is a wonderful reimagining and redefining of the entire myth of Shiva. This article aims to decipher the demythification that puts away the mythical wrappings of the Shiva myth clothing it in a modern garb. The work aims to figure out how the formula of the hero figure is reconstructed, in contrast to the familiar icon of God Shiva/Rudra in the sacred Shivapurana. The essay intends to look into the strategies and the techniques by which the myth is demythified and the results of such a demythification.
Keywords: demythification, Indian myths, humanisation, Hindu mythology, women’s religious representation, patriarchy
Mankind as a whole had a like dream once; everybody and nobody built up the dream bit by bit, and the ancient story tellers are there to make us remember what mankind would have been like, had not fear and the failing will and the laws of nature tripped up its heels. (Yeats 20)
W. B. Yeats in his work Explorations gives a vivid picture of that world which gave birth to myths and legends. Yeats speaks in a highly metaphysical language and yet the ideas regarding myths are made clear: the phrase “everybody and nobody built up the dream bit by bit” clearly indicates the anonymity of the authorship of myths and legends. The nature of myths and legends is suggested by the rest of the sentence (20). “Myth is truth which is subjective, intuitive, cultural and grounded in faith,” says Devdutt Pattanaik in his myth=mithya (xiii). Ancient Greek philosophers had distinguished mythos from logos. From mythos came the intuitive narrations including the oracles and the arts. From logos came science and mathematics. It is interesting to note how men turned to mythos for answers to their questions regarding life, death and existence.
Myths, legends, folktales, all the three modes of knowledge, each different yet closely connected with one another, are often confused. Myth is a sacred narrative in which gods and other supernatural (non- human) characters hold the centre stage. The time and space of a myth do not belong to human world. Highlighting the timeless and ahistorical character of myths, Martin Day remarks, “For the great majority of myths everywhere the time is the remote and misty past” and adds: “For prophetic and eschatological myth, the setting is sometime in the future” (15). This mythical time invests myths with a “timelessness and generality which compensate for the particularity of the story itself” (Macquarrie 178).
Myths are anthropological in the sense that they are addressed to human beings. Legends are either sacred or secular with the stories of human characters with a time frame of the recent past. Folktale is the secular narration of human or non-human characters of any time and place. William Bascom, in his article “The Forms of Folklore: Prose Narratives”, in the 1965 Journal of American Folklore observes: “In passing from one society to another through diffusion a myth or legend may be accepted without being believed, thus becoming a folktale in the borrowing society and the reverse may also happen” (qtd. in Dorairaj 13). He also brings to attention the relative nature of this classification: “It is entirely possible that the same tale may be a folktale in one society, a legend in a second society, and a myth in a third” (13).
The search for the roots of the origin of religion is directly linked with the formation of myths. Mythology had embodied for mankind its highest ideals in forms to be worshipped. Religion was created by man during the course of the evolution of his ideas and struggles against adverse forces of life. He formed laws to provide him consolation, safety and prosperity. His logical and more emotional pursuit about his own being and the reason of existence often transgressed the boundaries of stark reality.
As time passed by, the speculations did not satisfy the emotional needs of society. Ernest Becker in his book The Birth and Death of Meaning has given a perceptive description of the intellectual environment of the old world and its belief:
Probably for a half million years mankind has believed that there were two worlds, a visible one in which everyday action took place; and a greater, much more powerful world—the invisible one, upon which the visible depended and from which it drew its powers. (qtd. in R.G. Joshi 31)
There is no doubt that myths were created out of the ancient people’s belief in the invisible world and their attempt to locate and name the powers belonging to the world. The greatness of man in those days depended upon his ability to transcend the visible world and reach out to the invisible one. It is needless to say that the myths portrayed man’s efforts to establish a contact with the invisible world. There was need for a divinity that was not merely an abstract force invoked or an abstract idea to be analyzed by metaphysicians. There was need for a concrete divinity that could be embodied and personified so that it responded to the human condition in human terms.
Ancient Hindu seers regarded myth as mithya—delusion—and therefore open to correction. Myths cannot be rationalised. Keeping pace with evolution, religious concepts kept changing. Yet the illogical irrational myths were passed on to generations without any change. Myth is a term which eludes exact definitions and neat categorisation. The term itself is quite elastic and flexible and contains within itself shades of meaning. It is interesting to note how the ancient concept has been worked out by the modern man. “Everybody lives in myth. This idea disturbs most people. For conventionally myth means falsehood. Nobody likes to live in falsehood. Everybody believes they live in truth” (Pattanaik, myth=mithya xiii). Even perfection is a myth. There is no perfect world, a perfect man or a perfect deed anywhere on earth. Perfection exists only in mythology. Yet everyone craves for it. This craving inspires art, establishes empires, sparks revolutions and motivates leaders.
Even with the varied definitions of myth, the essential characteristics include its narrative aspect, its sacred origin, its etiological character, its relation to ritual, its communication and normative dimensions, its pre-historical and pre-logical nature and its fabulous character. As proposed by Wellek and Warren, the communitarian and the anonymous nature of myths need to be underlined: “Myth is social, anonymous, communal” (196).
Myths bind the society in which it occurs. Ruthven opens his monograph titled Myth by conceding that it is difficult to define myth because it is “obscure in origin, protean in form and ambiguous in meaning” (1). William Righter in his Myth and Literature says that myth is “one of the great cant words of our time and that ‘myth’ has become a kind of intellectual shorthand which has gained acceptance as standing for an elusive, almost unanalysable amalgam of beliefs, attitudes and feelings” (10). Myths transcend the co-ordinates of time and space; for they belong to a pre-literate and pre-historical era. Yet they keep recurring in all ages and are a part of our contemporary society. Most myths are sacred narratives characterised by fear and awe.
Myth is a multi-dimensional term which spreads over areas such as literature, sociology, anthropology, psychology and religion. Henry
A. Murray has formulated this boundary crossing character of myth using an apt imagery. He writes: “Myth had become a semantic wanderer or hobo, a casual boarder or adulterated visitor in many different mansions and had shown no unwillingness as yet to stay formally put in any single residence” (qtd. in Dorairaj 24). A. Joseph Dorairaj observes:
Myths are uncanny phenomena. They are at once regional and yet universal; static and yet dynamic; stable and yet protean; archaic and yet contemporary; profligate and yet hallowed; fantastic and yet highly structured; divine and yet human in that they are as much about gods and goddesses as about human beings. (9)
It is obvious that myths contain the basic ideas that govern the entire culture of a nation. “From myth come beliefs, from mythology customs. Myth conditions thoughts and feelings. Mythology influences behaviours and communications” (Pattanaik, mith=mithya xv). Myth and mythology thus have a profound influence on culture and vice versa. Myth is essentially a cultural construct—a common understanding of the world that binds individuals and communities together. For instance, the concept of avatar (incarnation) contains the perennial tension between free will and destiny—an idea accepted by Indian culture. This understanding may be religious or secular. Ideas such as rebirth, heaven and hell, angels and demons, sin and salvation are religious myths. Each religion plays the role of chastising people within the frame of morality. The theory of reward, punishment, confession, the Day of Last Judgment, the concepts of soul, karma, rebirth and Nirvana are different concepts believed by different religions. Philosophy, religion and ethics then unify together in a unique way. Myths use an unconscious strategy of moralising people. For example, the concept of blood-thirsty yakshis was to control the libertinous nature of men, thereby preventing atrocities against women.
Ideas such as sovereignty, nation state, human rights are secular myths. To be in search of the origin, meaning and interpretations of myths is virtually to be on a wild goose chase. If one delves deep into the true meaning one could reach multiple layers of interpretation where one will find a new horizon conjoined by psychology, science and philosophy. At such a new dimension of research all religious myths attain a secular status which has intense social and cultural implications.
The rhythmic relation of each being and entity with everything else in nature are thus unveiled. Myths might have developed in different times with variegated interests of the ruling class (the dominant section of the society). Unethical practices including sati and child marriage, social evils such as untouchability and intercaste exclusiveness existed for a long period of time. Such customs might have survived due to the Brahminical predominance. Such politics behind the source of myths is a different stream of research.
Are myths merely myths? In India, over the ages, wisdom was transmitted through stories, symbols and rituals. An apt example is the Panchathantra Tales. Pattanaik observes this aspect about myths in “An Idea called Shiva”:
There is this mistaken notion about sacred stories: symbols and rituals are literal signs. They are not. In mythology men are not men, women are not women and gods are not gods. They are abstract ideas wrapped in concrete forms to allow their transmissions and facilitate their understanding. Without this clarity of the medium, the message can never be understood. (40)
The stories of Indian mythology vary from subtle maxim-conveying tales of Panchatantra and Jataka Tales to a wide range of stories of Gods and Goddesses. They are in effect narrative expressions of the interactions between spiritual demands and material needs, between the conscious being and the enveloping environment, between the divine within and the divine without, between Purusha and Prakriti.
Hindu myth is another human understanding of life. The mythological literature is intertwined with the ethos of ancient Vedic religion and Vedic civilisation and fundamentally constructed with Indian systems of philosophy. The earliest record of Indian mythology is contained in the Rig Veda, a series of ten books of hymns celebrating the chief Vedic Gods. The exact motives of the collection are uncertain but it is clear that they formed a most important part of the worship of the gods in the ritual of the subsequent period. The date of the Rig Veda is much disputed.
Berriedale Keith in the introduction to his work Indian Mythology makes a detailed study of the sources of Indian myths. It is much earlier than 1200 BC; it is not probably composed later than 800 BC. Both in its mythology and in its composition, the Rig Veda is clearly older than the other three Vedas: the Samaveda, the Yajurveda and the Atharvaveda. These three Vedas and the Brahmanas may be from 800 BC to 600 BC. The sacred texts, the Sutras and the Brahmanas, were believed to have been composed along with the two great epics the Mahabharata and the Ramayana. The first composition of these works as real epics may be assigned to the fourth century BC.
The epic period is followed by that of the Puranas which show undoubted signs of the development of the religion and mythology of the epics. The Puranas, with no definite texts or author, is the authoritative sacred texts (in eighteen volumes) of Hindu myth and worship to the present day. A Hindu deity may be just a rock in a cave, a tree growing in an orchard, a river flowing down the plains, a cow wandering in the street or perhaps an elaborately decorated idol of stone, clay or metal enshrined in a temple. Anything can be God. All existence is a manifestation of the divine. Evil means that which is devoid of Godliness. When everything is God, then nothing, not even things we despise and shy away from, can be ungodly!!
Decoding Hindu mythology, one would find that Hindus have one God. They also have 330 million Gods. The three primary manifestations of God in Hindu mythology are: Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva. Brahma creates, Vishnu sustains and Shiva destroys.
Among the Holy Trinity, Lord Shiva, the primeval and primordial aspect of the eternal forces, is the God of life and death, destruction and rebirth. He is the embodiment of Satyam, Shivam, Sundaram—truth, transcendence and beauty.
Revisiting the myth of Shiva in the Shiva Trilogy:
Mythology in India is not just an academic or a historical subject; it is a vital living topic of contemporary relevance. The complex, social, political and religious attitudes of modern India cannot be understood without an understanding of our myths and their impact on the collective faith of the people.
Indian myths are never static; it is constantly in the process of reinterpreting and revalidating itself and the society that it defines. Myths are endowed with flexibility, adaptability and resilience which help creative artists to transpose and transplant them in diverse cultures and media. It is the semiological structure of myth which throws light on the different levels of signification that provides its multivalent character. It is precisely this quality which accounts for the resilience and recurrence of myths in various cultures. This dissertation looks into the intricate details when creative writers transplant myths into modern settings.
Amish Tripathi, a banker turned author, became popular with his debut work on Shiva myth. His Shiva Trilogy with The Immortals of Meluha (Meluha) and The Secret of the Nagas (Nagas), and The Oath of the Vayuputras, ( Vayuputras) topped the National Best Seller List in 2010, 2012 and 2013 respectively. His work demystifies the myth of a God and reveals the simple man behind it. In the interview Shiva in a New Light, when asked about the inspiration that prompted Tripathi to write a book fictionalising Hindu mythology, he answered:
We all know that for ancient Indians, Gods were called Devas and Demons were called Asuras. What we don’t know is that for ancient Persians, Gods were called Ahuras and Demons were called Daevas—the exact opposite of the ancient Indians. Maybe if the ancient Indians and the ancient Persians met they would probably be calling each other evil—because one person’s God was the other person’s demon. Now both the groups can’t be right, can they? So who is evil? Both the groups? Neither? But what can’t be denied is that evil does exist. It rises again and again. A philosophy occurred to me on this topic. And hence I started writing the present novel with a hero whose journey conveys the philosophies I want to talk about. And since the story is about the destruction of evil, who better to be the hero than the destroyer of evil Himself, Lord Shiva! (Shiva in a New Light: An Interview with Amish Tripathi)
Amish Tripathi gives convincing reasons as to how important myths are for Indians even in this modern world:
For Greeks or Egyptians myths are just stories. But in India, these are more than myths. Why are our myths alive
today? I think it’s because the myths tell us something for today’s life. Why do they tell us that? It’s because India has displayed this genius over centuries, modernising and localising our myths again and again. Why do Indians keep modernising and localising our myths? That’s because we are making our myths relevant to our present day lives. And that attitude keeps our myths relevant and alive. (Shiva in a New Light: An Interview with Amish Tripathi)
Tripathi raises the question “Why does God take a form?” and answers it himself: “Because it is difficult for human beings with our puny imagination to conceptualise a formless God. For our limited imagination, God has to take a form” (Shiva in a New Light: An Interview with Amish Tripathi).
Creative fiction on the subject of Shiva takes many imaginative directions. Devotion and respect had distanced Shiva from us. Amish Tripathi in the Preface to his first book The Immortals of Meluha of the Shiva Trilogy says: “Shiva! The Mahadev. The Gods of Gods. Destroyer of Evil. Passionate lover. Fierce Warrior. Consummate dancer. Charismatic leader. All powerful, yet incorruptible” (Tripathi, Meluha xv). One is fascinated by the vitality of the mythical heroes whose lives seem to embody permanent moral values. Tripathi questions the belief whether the existence of such a mythical God can be possible other than in the realms of the human imagination: “What if Lord Shiva was not a figment of a rich imagination, but a person of flesh and blood? Like you and me. A man who rose to become godlike because of his karma” (xv). Tripathi carries this priceless philosophy within this creative work: “A lesson, that there exists a potential god in every single human being. All we have to do is listen to ourselves” (xv). Shiva Trilogy website home page sums up Tripathi’s philosophy that is implicit in his work: “When evil reaches epic proportions, when all seems lost, when it appears that your enemies have triumphed, a hero will emerge”.
This is the point of difference that made the Shiva Trilogy popular. The blurb of the sequel to The Immortals of Meluha, The Secret of the Nagas, says: “Today, He is a God. Four thousand years ago, He was just a man”. Shiva seems to be an ordinary man. He is an exceptional warrior but does not seem to have been endowed with supernatural powers at birth. “The whole hero-life is shown to have been a pageant of marvels with the great central adventure as its culmination” (319).
The divinity of Shiva, the God figure, and the whole supernatural aura that surrounds him have been modified into an ordinary human experience. Tripathi has modernised the mythical version of the Shiva story. It is indeed the flexibility of the myths open to all sorts of interpretations and retellings that make them perpetual and influential. As Ricouer observes:
Myths are not unchanging and unchanged antiques which are simply delivered out of the past in some naked original state. Their specific identity depends on the way in which each generation (and reader) receives or interprets them according to their needs, conventions and ideological motivations. (Ricoeur et al. 143)
Lord Shiva appears as Lord Rudra in the Vedas. The primary source of Rudra’s birth is given in the sacred Vishnupurana (first section, eighth chapter). Raudra or Rudra, the howler is believed to have been born out of the lap of Brahma, the Creator. As Rudra came into being, he brought the mysteries of creation and the manifest with him. When he approached he howled and so came to be known as Rudra, the roarer. In his manifestation as the lord of the thunderbolts, he encompasses Agni, the element of fire. Like Agni, he both sustains and destroys life.
Devibhagavatham too narrates the tale of Rudra born out of the temple of Brahma who was himself born out of Lord Vishnu’s navel. It is the sacred Shivapurana that encompasses all the incarnations and chronicles of Rudra. The polarity of Rudra-Shiva, of the destructive and benevolent realities of the godhead is embodied in the ashtamurthi: the eight aspects of Shiva including Rudra, Bhavan, Sharvan, Ishanan, Pashupathi, Beeman, Ugran and Mahadevan. The Shiva myth holds that, at the request of Brahma and Vishnu, the other members of the holy trinity, Shiva agrees to marry Sati, the daughter of the great sage Daksha. The marriage of Shiva and Sati is solemnised in the presence of the Gods and the sages, after which they go to Shiva’s abode in Mount Kailash. Sati is the eldest of the sixty daughters of Daksha. She is an incarnation of the eternal goddess who has taken human shape to fulfil her destiny as Shiva’s Shakti. Sati herself is the essential primordial goddess Kali, the dark one and Durga, the impregnable. In her self- born manifestation as Daksha’s daughter, Sati is also known as Uma.
Sati’s father, Daksha, is a great ritualist. He organises a magnificent yagna, a sacrifice to the gods, at the holy confluence of the river Ganga at Prayag. All the divinities are invited to this yagna, to the exclusion of Lord Shiva, who is deliberately insulted by Daksha. The proud patriarch Daksha scorns Shiva, who is after all a mere Kapalin, with a skull for a begging bowl. Shiva’s body is besmeared with ash from the cremation grounds, his hair is matted, he wears a garland of skulls and is constantly intoxicated by divine ecstasy. Daksha does not deem him worthy to be invited to his grand sacrifice. At the Ganga, the site of the ritual, no portion of the ritual offerings is set aside for Shiva.
Enraged at this insult, Sati demands an explanation from her father and his scornful reply so angers her that she casts off her body as Sati, the human daughter of Daksha, to resume her formless incarnation as the eternal goddess and the mother of the universe. When Shiva hears of Sati’s death, his rage cannot be contained. He destroys the sacrifice and beheads Daksha. Then, at the spot where Sati had immolated herself, he smears himself with her ashes. Holding Sati’s lifeless body in his arms, Shiva begins to dance the thaandava in a frenzy of love, death and despair. The preordained equilibrium of the universe is thus disturbed. It is with great effort that Lord Vishnu restores the order.
After her death, the goddess is once again reborn as Parvati. She unites with Shiva to maintain the balance of Shiva-Shakti, according to the true nature of Ardhanarishwara. All the gods undertake to wake Shiva from his meditation and persuade him to conceive a son, who, it has been prophesied, would be the destroyer of the invincible Tarakasura. Kamadeva, the god of love who is assigned the duty to awaken Shiva, so enrages Shiva who is disturbed from his yogic nidra. Shiva’s anger consumes Kamadeva in a blaze of flames from his third eye.
The birth of Lord Ganesh and Lord Kartikeya are different stories. Ganesh is believed to have been created by Parvati from beautifying products, including sandalwood paste, to guard her from the untimely interventions of Shiva. Unaware of the new son of Parvati, Shiva beheads him at the end of a heated argument. Following Parvati’s repeated pleas, Shiva gives back life to Ganesha, replacing his head with an elephant’s. Kartikeya is believed to have been born as six babies conceived by a swan who consumed the divine spirit that came out of the Shiva-Shakti union.
Amish Tripathi in his Shiva Trilogy shows how elastic and energetic myths are, and how they are always in a state of reinterpretation and reinvention. Tripathi shows through his deft narration how Shiva the man became Shiva the God. Shiva, the supernatural figure held in awe by the other Hindu deities, the fierce hot-tempered God of destruction, has been portrayed as a human figure of flesh and blood. Shiva is pictured as a tribal leader, the sole similarity with the traditional mythical figure being his tiger skin clothing!
The land of Meluha, the setting of the Shiva chronicle, is a place created out of pure imagination. Shiva’s tribe migrates from mount Kailas to the empire Meluha. Thus the whole of Kashmir is brought in as the setting. North India as sapt sindhu and the historical references to the clan as Suryavanshis and Chandravanshis have been deftly embedded in the making of the story.
The Puranas speak of the samudramanthan, the churning of the oceans by devas and asuras for amrut, the divine potion for immortality. The fatal poison kaalakoota, capable of destroying the entire universe, is spit out by Vasuki, the king of serpents who was used as the churning rope. It is Lord Shiva who swallows the poison thus saving the entire world. Parvati, fearful of the poison, grabs Shiva’s throat to prevent it from going further down. Lord Vishnu cups Shiva’s mouth to prevent the spilling of the poison. Thus the poison remains in Shiva’s throat, giving him the title of Neelkanta, the one with the blue throat. Tripathi uses this myth of the Neelkanth as the major thread out of which the entire legend of Shiva is spun. The belief of the Meluhans that a foreigner would come as the Neelkanth to save them from evil is the myth on which the entire story is built.
Sati as a widow, living a life as an outcaste, is a new take on the caste system and untouchability still prevailing in India. Her twin sister Kali with a black complexion and two pairs of hands, her son Ganesh with a nose of abnormal proportions that gives his face the semblance of an elephant-headed human, are the ill-fated Nagas forced to live a life of exile. The Vikarma law states that such physical deformities are the results of past actions/bad karma which they are fated to suffer.
Sati has lived half her life without being aware of her twin sister and her first-born son. Sati’s father Emperor Daksha, a true follower of Lord Ram, has kept these facts as secrets. The frequent Naga attacks are shown as Kali’s attempts to avenge this injustice done to them and Ganesh’s yearning to get back his mother.
Shiva’s axe called Parashu is gifted to Parshuram who is believed to be Lord Vishnu’s incarnation. Parshuram, the great ascetic and warrior, is recreated as a bandit figure who turns out to be a believer of the Neelkanth legend. ‘
With these changes, Tripathi has modernised the entire story. The tribe of Shiva accepts the offer made by the foreigner to migrate to their land: “Nandi led Shiva and his tribe to the Foreigner’s Office, which was placed just outside the camp. Nandi requested Shiva to wait outside as he went into the office” (Tripathi, Meluha 12). The resettling of the tribal people has been portrayed as if happening in the recent past. Any reader could relate it to a present time migration procedure:
Would you be so kind as to follow me to the registration desk, please? You will be registered as the caretaker of your tribe. Any communication that concerns them will go through you. Since you are the designated leader, the implementation of all directives within your tribe would be your responsibility. (12)
The drainage system of the Meluhan Empire, their meticulous planning to ensure cleanliness, attached bathrooms, luxurious furniture even the materials made out of cotton startle Shiva. The highly advanced medical techniques used for medication included even the quarantine measures of precaution. The uniform shaped bricks and metals used in architecture leave Shiva in awe at the efficiency of the Meluhans:
The city gates were made of a metal that Shiva had never seen before. Nandi clarified that they were made of iron, a new metal that had just been discovered. It was the strongest of all the metals but very expensive. The ore required to make it was not easily available. (62)
Soma rasa, the divine drink that prolongs life and cures all illnesses, is equivalent to the amrut described in the Puranas. Brahaspati, the chief scientist, explains to Shiva how the oxidising process causes ageing to human body:
After a lot of research, Lord Brahma invented the Somras, which when consumed, reacts with the oxidants, absorbs them and then expels them from the body as sweat or urine. Because of the Somras, there are no oxidants left in the body. (135)
The functioning of the Meluhan city reflects modern administrative system: “As Shiva learned from Nandi, the city was divided into many districts consisting of four to eight blocks. Each district had its own markets, commercial and residential areas, temples and entertainment centres” (63).
One would wonder at the attention given to nature proving the eco-consciousness of the people: “Manufacturing or any other polluting activity was conducted in separate quarters away from the districts” (63). Precise administrative plans have a sense of order in each of its systems: “The last census just two years back had pegged the population of the city at two hundred thousand” (63).
Metamythical instances add to the modern setting and reflect the people’s attitude to myths. When Shiva enquires Nandi about the sun shaped amulets, the conversation contain Shiva’s reference to a myth. Nandi explains:
“My Lord, the sun represents the fact that I am a follower of the Suryavanshi kings—the kings who are the descendants of the Sun.”
“What? The Sun came down and some queen. ,” teased
an incredulous Shiva. (40)
Shiva is found reading a book on his trip to Mount Mandar which has allusions to the Puranas:
It was an interesting manuscript about the terrible war that was fought many thousands of years ago, between the Devas, the gods; and the Asuras, the demons—an eternal struggle between opposites: good and evil. The Devas, with the help of Lord Rudra, the Mahadev, the God of Gods, had destroyed the Asuras and established righteousness in the world again. (126)
The telepathic transmissions of the Vasudev Pandits could be attributed to the divine gift of hearing another’s thoughts. But the Pandit explains the rationale behind it—the science of radio waves:
This is certainly not a theory. This is a fact. Just like light, which helps you see, there are radio waves to help you hear. While all humans can easily use the properties of light to see, most don’t know how to use radio waves to hear. Sound waves travel much slower through the air and for much shorter distances. Radio waves travel far and fast, just like light. (Tripathi, Nagas 111)
Shiva is surprised as he gets to know how the temples act as powerful transmitters between the Vasudev Pandits:
We have to stay within the range of powerful transmitters
. . . the temples work as our transmitters. Therefore the temples we use have to have a height of at least fifty metres. This helps in catching radio waves from other Vasudevs and in turn transmits my thoughts to them as well. (112)
The prominence of strong female characters including the warrior Sati, the beautiful Padmavati and the talented doctor Lady Ayurvati, questions the secondary stature often attributed to women. Kanakhala, the lady Prime Minister at Daksha’s court, is introduced to Shiva as the one who takes care of all administrative, revenue and protocol matters. Nowhere in the puranic scriptures can we find a lady in such an elevated position. There are also many women warriors in the Meluhan army. Lady Ayurvati is portrayed as a Brahmin lady wearing the sacred thread which was a practice unheard of in the Indian tradition: “Her head had been shaved clean except for a knotted tuft of hair at the back, called a choti. A loose string called a janau was tied down her left shoulder across her torso to the right side” (Tripathi, Meluha 14).
Kanakhala and Ayurvati are the two Brahmin ladies portrayed in the dress as that of the Brahmin men with dhoti and angavastra. It seems that such portrayals are intended to imply that the gender distinctions were not seen seriously.
The philosophical musings throughout the novels is in agreement to the existence of multiple realities. Shiva, who is endowed with the responsibility of eradicating evil, fights against the Chandravanshis, only to find later that they were good hearted people. After the war against the Brangas, the helplessness of the people that forced them to side with the Nagas is revealed. The helping mentality of the Nagas does not allow Shiva to mark them down as evil. “But I didn’t destroy evil! These people aren’t evil. They’re just different. Being different isn’t evil” (391). This realisation that dawns on Shiva is made clear by the Pandit: “You have guessed it correctly. Just like the Suryavanshis and the Chandravanshis see each other evil, so did the Devas and the Asuras. So if you are going to read a book written by the Devas, what do you think the Asuras are going to be portrayed as” (391).
Shiva is left to find out “what is evil?” as the question of questions. It is this world vision that Tripathi intends to propagate through his retelling of the Shiva myth. The Secret of the Nagas deals with the numerous attacks, counter attacks and battles waged by Shiva and his believers to restore peace and justice. The paradoxical truth that “even evil serves a purpose” is somewhat difficult to comprehend: “Everything in the universe exists for a reason. Everything serves a purpose . . . even Evil serves a purpose” (Tripathi, Nagas 277). The Indian tradition of worshipping jeshta (evil) along with sree (good) reflects the philosophy that good exists only because evil exists. In Vayuputras the philosophy of Bhagavad Gita is encapsulated:
“Excess should be avoided; excess of anything is bad…Therefore, if the universe is trying to maintain balance, we must aid this by ensuring that good is not enjoyed excessively. Or else the universe will re-balance itself by creating Evil to counteract Good. That is the purpose of Evil: it balances the Good.” (97)
Thus the Somras which was considered the elixir of life for the Meluhans turned out to be the root cause of evil which Shiva as the Neelkanth wipes off paying a heavy price for the same – his beloved Sati’s life.
The Shiva Trilogy has been thus creatively transported from the mythical times to the modern. The readers are left to muse over the modifications made to the customary myths. The demythified story provides an apt ground for interpretations from a contemporary perspective. With events and characters that can be easily related to everyday life, the myth is no longer a story of supernatural beings and supernatural actions. Herohood is not predestined but achieved. Shiva becomes a present day superhero.
“Wherever the poetry of myth is interpreted as biography, history, or science, it is killed,” says Joseph Campbell in his The Hero with a thousand Faces. Reworking on myths require immense care with even the subtlest details requiring vital attention. Amish Tripathi has successfully reconstructed the Shiva myth without compartmentalising it into a specific genre. His novels are retellings of myth blended in fanciful imagination with historical facts and socially relevant issues. He deftly brings out the transformation of Shiva the God from Shiva the man. The whole book is then an account of this transformation on “how it could have happened”.
The Shiva Trilogy portrays a new rendering of the Shiva myth by demythification. Humanising the supernatural figure Shiva, Tripathi has put away the transcendental divinity of Gods. Myths speak of Gods who represent the power beyond the visible, comprehensible world. Demythification in the Shiva Trilogy speaks of Gods as if they were men whose actions made them godlike.
As Darwin’s theory of evolution always defies the myths of creation, rational science and irrational myths confront at every level. It is Rudolf Bultmann, a German theologian who introduced the concept of demythology which called for theologians to interpret the mythological elements in the New Testament existentially. Demythologisation aims to demystify and look into the underlying meaning of myths. It is a hermeneutic approach to myths.
Demythification deals with the context of the narrative itself, with rewriting or reconstructing it in order to get a more faithful depiction of reality. The myth is then no longer a story of supernatural beings and supernatural events but of common beings and events that can be easily related to everyday life. Myth is thus made devoid of its sacredness.
By modernising the Shiva myth, Tripathi has deconstructed the image of a God-figure proving that there are only hero figures that men turn into Gods. The Shiva myth has been recontextualised from the mythical lines to the modern. Events of a myth take place in a timeless world. It is the unique feature that differentiates a myth from a legend or a folktale. The timeless myths are transplanted to the horizon of the present. Narrating the archaic in a contemporary perspective, the divine is made human, the static is made dynamic and the religious is made secular/ universal.
Myths not only transcend the co-ordinates of time but also that of space. Mythical actions take place in a supernatural world as in the heavens which one could not relate easily with. The events in the Shiva Trilogy takes place in the human world intelligible to all.
The conventional belief that anything can happen in a myth has been displaced with concrete logical events on scientific grounds. The sacredness attached to myths in the process of demythification has made the narrative universal and objective. Recontextualisation has recreated the familiar myths reducing the cultural chasm dividing the moderns from the ancients in their respective approaches to myths.
The functions of mythology as proposed by Campbell in The Power of Myth—metaphysical, cosmological, sociological and the psychological are not observed in the process of demythification.
As Ruthven has said it would be perhaps the obscurity in origin, protean nature in the form and ambiguity in meaning that make such reworking of myths possible. Campbell has favoured such recreations in his “Mythological themes in Creative Literature and Art”: “to be effective, a mythology must be up-to-date scientifically based on a concept of the universe that is current, accepted and convincing” (144).
Though the mythological realm of imagination is the same, each one views differently, each generation receives and interprets differently. The Shiva Trilogy demystifies the myth of God and reveals the simple man behind it.
‘Today, He is a GOD. 4000 years ago, He was just a man’, says the blurb of The Secret of the Nagas. Devotion and respect had distanced Shiva from people. Tripathi examines whether Lord Shiva is not a figment of imagination. The mythical God is portrayed as nothing more than a man of flesh and blood “whom legend turned into a God”. Demythifying the Shiva myth leaves us muse over the Death of God suggesting that only heroes exist. Gods are creative and imaginative embodiments of such hero figures.
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RAJASREE R. Is Editorial Assistant, Samyukta: A Journal of Women’s Studies.