The latest edition of the Express Adda in New Delhi hosted author and mythologist Devdutt Pattanaik. He talked about what’s making women speak out, the many Ramayanas and why religion is not an adversary of queer love.
On the #MeToo movement
In Hindu mythology, there is the fundamental idea of Matsya Nyaaya, the law of the fish. The crude English translation is jungle law — where the predator runs after the prey. There is nothing immoral about it because the predator is doing it for food, for sustenance, for survival. When the human starts to devour other human beings in order to indulge his sense of self, something has gone wrong. He has lost his humanity. And this is what has happened. Suddenly people are calling it out and saying that “we will not be prey to people who are devouring people”. And it is a psychological devouring, where I disrespect you, I disrespect your space, I disrespect your body. In fact, I disrespect you so much that I have turned you into an object. That’s the movement in philosophical terms. This is what the cry is about. You cannot violate me. You are devouring me, and this is unacceptable. I am another human being, I have boundaries and rules.
On Section 377, religion and queer love
It was December 11, which also is my birthday, in 2013, when I heard that Section 377 had been upheld and homosexuality has been recriminalised. I was devastated. I wept so much. It was the most heart-wrenching moment because I felt betrayed by the Indian state.
I like to let my work talk about it, but I went out of my way to write books about queer sexuality in the Indic traditions — Jainism, Buddhism and Hinduism. Later, I wrote a book titled I Am Divine So Are You (2017), which spoke of how Buddhism, Jainism and Hinduism are allies of queer sexuality, and not adversaries. And it was sponsored by the Church of Sweden. Religion is always somehow weirdly presented as an adversary of sexuality. There are whole bodies of knowledge that are being shoved aside by people and I am driven by the desire to get Saraswati out of the closet. Saraswati belongs everywhere, she has to flow everywhere. And I work really hard to make knowledge accessible.
On reaching out to a young audience
How do I contextualise mythology and contemporise it for a young person going to college who only has time for Instagram. That’s my target market, because if I don’t talk to that generation, who do I talk to? And how do you make it cool without trivialising it. They are smart people, it’s just that the language is different. And you have to figure out a way of touching them, so that’s my challenge. So when I wrote about sexuality and my idea of feminism, it was based on my mythological knowledge. For me, everything comes from mythology. Mythology is the map of the human mind. So anything that exists in the human mind, I’ll find something in mythology.
On our textual obsession and the many Ramayanas
There are many Ramayanas which are in the oral traditions in Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra and Odisha. Ramayana is complex, it’s a tradition. This textual obsession comes because of a Protestant mindset. The Protestants were the ones who said that the text is important and therefore, the printed Bible became important. This mindset was brought to India by the British. So, they also said the same thing, “let’s look at the original document”. They started teaching Buddha to the Buddhists.
-Express features service