Why Is Mythology Relevant, Now More Than Ever?
Unlike most mythology buffs, I did not grow up on a diet of mythological stories narrated to me by nani or dadi. I did watch BR Chopra’s Mahabharata every Sunday along with the rest of the country but apart from that tiny fact, I remember little else from those days.
My interest in Mythology was fuelled much later, after I had turned a fellow blogger and a dear friend recommended Kavita Kane’s Sita’s Sister.
The feminist narrative and the unusual point of view had me hooked into exploring mythology from different perspectives. Soon I had devoured more books on Mythology and officially turned into someone who couldn’t get enough of mythology.
This newfound love came useful much later when I began researching for my book, Dashavatar: Stories of Lord Vishnu. With two books based on the ten avatars of Lord Vishnu, I can now claim to have some, although still minuscule, knowledge of this otherwise vast ocean that’s our mythology.
The relevance, valuable lessons, and the moral virtues, these stories impart cannot be denied.
Each of the ten avatars of Lord Vishnu are said to have manifested on Earth to annihilate evil and restore the balance – bring back the values of peace, love, righteousness to an otherwise fragmented world – and each avatar fulfilled its purpose in its own peculiar way.
The messages and the morals contained in each story are profound. As are the applicability of those values in the present times we live in.
As I continued my research and explored more and more stories, it began to dwell on me that a lot of the stories and mythological teaching were out of context and seemed to have lost their relevance.
That’s when I realised that while the stories had remained, a lot of the earlier messaging was getting lost.
It is evident then that we have to stop taking the stories at a literal value and understand the deeper contextual meanings and interpretations that are evident despite the minute differences among the texts. (And there exist many differences that are evident from the various books and texts). For the lessons and the take-aways aren’t in the details but in the stories themselves. And while we consume the stories for entertainment and education, the stories hold immense wisdom too.
Do you know why Ravana had to die at the hands of Rama only?
Take, for example, the festival of Diwali. We all know it as the victory celebration of Rama over Ravana. We certainly know that story – fight between good and evil, where evil loses.
But did you know why Ravana had to die at the hands of Rama only? And how to do these stories teach us lessons that are applicable in present day life?
I firmly believe in the adage ‘what goes round comes round’. Not only in this true in real life, but there are ample and more instances of this in our mythological texts. So, it is the case with many of the actions and decisions that these characters take in their lives. Often, it so happens that the consequences of one’s actions in a lifetime are evident in a subsequent lifetime. This is quite a common occurrence in both of our popular epics, and especially in the case of Lord Vishnu and his human avatars, Rama and Krishna.
As per a popular legend, Vishnu had been cursed by Narada to be separated from his wife. Additionally, the four Sanat Kumaras had also cursed Jaya and Vijaya, the gatekeepers at Vaikuntha (Lord Vishnu’s heavenly abode), to be born as mortals. As per the curse, they would have to take rebirth and be defeated by Lord Vishnu, thrice, before they could return to Vaikuntha.
Both these curses came through for Vishnu in the form of Rama avatar (human).
Vishnu, in his Rama avatar, killed Ravana and Kumbhkarna who were earlier Jaya and Vijaya.
As Rama, he also suffered a prolonged separation from his wife, Sita, who herself was an avatar of Goddess Lakshmi, which was a consequence of Narada’s curse on the couple.
It is evident then that even gods are not spared the consequences of their actions. While that’s an important lesson for us humans, what’s even worth more attention is that the ‘unpaid dues’ of one’s karma are settled in a subsequent lifetime. Now, one may or may not believe in afterlife or rebirth, but it cannot be disputed that we are the actions we do. One doesn’t even need to believe in god to know that good actions that are based on love, kindness, empathy attract goodwill and positivity. Whether or not you believe that karma is a real thing, the fact is that your actions will come back to you tenfold – good and bad, both.
Have we forgotten the lessons?
It is important to then recognise the flaws in our mythological stories too – the casteism, the blind belief in certain rituals and traditions without questioning them, the adherence to certain customs that are passed down the generations without realising that they need to be done away with or adapted as per changing times, or not even seeing the metaphorical and contextual relevance of the stories. While there is a lot of value to be derived from these stories, unfortunately, with the passage of time, the values and lessons are forgotten. It is vital then, that we turn to the stories again, and extract the true value of these stories – that guide us, rather than dictate, how to lead our lives with virtues like empathy, honesty, and devotion.
Interestingly, it is not just facing the consequences of one’s actions that’s the takeaway from these stories. Most of the stories also talk about facing challenges and obstacles head-on, and nothing, not even the boons from gods including the mighty Brahma, can save you from what’s coming your way.
One may be tempted to disbelief that fate or karma exists, but one can’t deny that sometimes, no matter what, things don’t go the way you want them to, and in those circumstances, there’s literally nothing you can do but to trust the universe and that everything will work out in the end.
If nothing else, these stories help make sense of the world around us. They answer some existential questions, remind us of the virtues and values to live by, and tell us how to make the best even in difficult circumstances. In fact, in a lot of the stories that I am reading and researching even now, the moral takeaway is for believers to not believe blindly, but to question and continue the journey of exploring and learning based on their own observations and experiences.
No wonder then that these stories and our fascination for the lessons contained within have proved timeless and can be adapted to different circumstances as per the individual perspectives of the reader.
Piyusha Vir is the author of Dashavatar. The views expressed are the author’s own.