Book Review: Myth=Mithya: – “Decoding the Hindu Enigma”

Lord Vishnu’s Vishwaroopam Form

“Yada yada hi dharmasya glanirbhavati bharata…..”….the song would start,and I would be at the edge of my seat, this was my favorite part of the show (BR Chopra’s Epic “MAHABHARAT”),it’s starting song, I was 11 and all I wanted to see chanting along as the song progressed, increasing my pitch, was the God with endless faces,it was exciting I would get goosebumps, I didn’t know that that form of ‘Lord Vishnu’was called the “Vishwaroopam”, didn’t know anything besides that it was the coolest thing I had ever seen. My mother tells me that I like mythology and stories from the Indian epic’s so much because she used to watch a lot of them when she was pregnant with me. That like “Abhimanyu”(Son Of Arjuna, an Indian epic hero) who learnt the art of war and ‘Chakravyuh’ in his mother’s womb, I had kind of the same effect.

Whatever the reason, I have always admired myths, and I have always questioned them, my why’s and but’s irritated my parents to no end.My grandfather used to show me an old version of ‘Ramayana’ and ‘Mahabharata’ ,written in Sanskrit,bound by wires on hard horizontal pages, I used to be absolutely stunned seeing him read it flawlessly. Then came the phase of belittling everything,my wonder was replaced with doubt, I had a thousand questions, these couldn’t have happened,Many of them were too fantastic to be true, I felt betrayed, lied to.How could a 10,000 year old civilization actually believe this, were they that stupid, but they invented so much, they endured and survived for so long in such hardships ,HOW could they believe it all. The realization that the purpose of these epics, these hundred thousand stories and myths was to TEACH, to GUIDE, to ENLIGHTEN,to IMPART the philosophies of life, death, creation, civilization, purpose, karma, duty, responsibility,’Dharma’ came much later, and I fell in love with them all over again.Oh the sheer simplicity and brilliance of them all.


This was my second book by Dr.Pattanaik, The first one that I read “Jaya” was absolutely brilliant.And although ‘Mithya’ predates ‘Jaya‘ ,which could be felt as you read his later works, I found this too to be absolutely marvelous. ‘Sanatan Dharma’ or ‘Hinduism’ is not only the oldest but it is also the most complicated religion there is,was or perhaps ever will be.It is filled with paradoxes and symbolism ,complicated rituals and narratives,mixed with all kinds of superstition that all of it just boggles the mind.In the midst of all this Dr.Pattanaik’s work is a brilliant attempt to find logic in this chaos, to follow the bread crumbs and lead to the crux of it all. I admire this a lot about him.

The book is designed cleverly too,he has used the Hindu trinity to divide the book, ‘Brahma-Saraswati'(Nature of the universe) as the First, ‘Vishnu-Lakshmi'(Cultural codes & Natural laws) as second and ‘Shiva-Shakti'(Soul & Matter)  as third. To anyone jumping right in, the myths might seem randomly all over the place, I would encourage the readers to read the intro and all the tid-bits too, they are not to be skipped. Although a lot of the stories were familiar to me, the associations made and explained, with a lot of visual flow charts and tables were quite refreshing and intriguing. This book deals with a lot of core Hindu ideologies, our idea of Rebirth, Creation, Afterlife, Heaven and Hell, Justice, Samsara, Moksha, Sex, Nature, Culture, Civilized and Uncivilized practices,etc etc.And on almost all accounts I was in agreement with Dr.Pattanaik save few, like his idea of ‘Caste system’ and the fact that if followed as per ‘Family’ legacy there stays harmony in the system,although some do say such a thing, couldn’t it have been the ‘High Caste’ Brahmans who started this just to keep the knowledge to them the select few, because as per my knowledge there is a para in Rig Veda (IX.112.3), where the poet refers to his diverse parentage: “I am a reciter of hymns, my father is a physician and my mother grinds corn with stones. We desire to obtain wealth in various actions.”So, the ‘Varna’ system was initially not meant to be hereditary, though it later became as such, so did a lot of ideas,mutated into something they were not supposed to.So, the stories in Ramayana promoting ‘Varnas'(Castes) as per birth didn’t sit well with me, Dr.Pattanaik should have mentioned the other side of the coin as well.

‘Nature’ And ‘Culture’ are the two pillars of the Vedic ways, often at odds with each other striving for that perfect balance, this idea is thoroughly researched and explained in this book.This was perhaps my favorite part. To explain the difference between ‘Vishnu’ & Samsara and ‘Shiva’ & Sanyasa. That too with his brilliant depictions and illustrations. pattanaik_hari-haraThe relevance of ‘Soul’ and ‘Matter’, of even the color ‘White’ and ‘Red’. There is just so much that you can take away from this book.To anyone remotely interested in Hinduism or Philosophy or Symbolism or even in Myths in general I whole heartily recommend this book. To any guy with an urge to make sense , this is a must.

I rate it 4 out of 5 stars. Goodreads  rating system.

To end with a quote from the book :-

“Within infinite myths lies the eternal truth
Who sees it all?
Varuna has but a thousand eyes,
Indra has a hundred,
You and I, only two.”


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