Devdutt Pattanaik is known for helping people retrace their steps back into the world of mythology by making it relevant in modern times. Myth has been an integral part of the writer’s books. By re-telling the stories we grew up hearing — in a manner that connects them with the present — Pattanaik has successfully directed us towards the lost past.
As the world celebrates Janmashtami with great joy and revelry, the writer comes bearing a gift for all devotees with his latest audiobook-Krishna 360. As the name suggests, it explores Lord Krishna’s life in detail along with the different facets Lord Krishna has been known to possess.
In an interview with indianexpress.com, he spoke about the audiobook, the relevance of myths in modern times, the pointers he keeps in mind while presenting them to the present generation, and the stereotypes in mythology.
You mentioned in one of the interviews that you get all your answers from mythology. Can you tell us about its importance in human life especially in modern times?
Mythology tells us how to look at life. Some mythologies tell us that we have only one life, at the end of which we will be judged by God. This means there is a climax to our life. Hindu, Buddhist, and Jain mythologies say that this life is one of the many lives you will lead. There is no climax to life. Life ebbs and flows.
Both these points of view are of value to your life. Sometimes, you need a climax in your life. Sometimes, when you reach the climax, you realise your life is full of ebbs and flows. That is how mythology trains our minds.
2. As a mythologist, what drives you to Lord Krishna and how did you conceive the idea of this audiobook?
Krishna embodies important ideas in Hindu mythology. Rama and Krishna complement each other. Ram is the rule follower. Krishna is the rule breaker. Ram is the prince, and Krishna is the cowherd. Ram is the king, and Krishna is the kingmaker. So, you cannot talk about Hindu mythology without talking about Krishna. To communicate the Vedic ideas, Ved Vyas composed the Puranic stories. Thus, all Vedic wisdom is found in the life of Krishna.
Regarding the audiobook, I think many people nowadays enjoy the oral traditions of India. There is something primal about storytelling. Initially, storytelling was all oral. It is what people enjoy most about storytelling. Also, nowadays, when people are traveling, driving, or walking, they like to listen to audiobooks. So I thought I should reach out to these people through an audio show.
3. You have written many books on Krishna’s life; how is this audiobook different?
A written story and a spoken story are different. A written story allows you to go into detail. You can use visuals to enhance the story. An audiobook does not allow that. But, it uses voice modulations and exclamations. This allows you to be more emotional and intimate with your listener. Both have their pros and cons.
With this audiobook, we try to explore Krishna in different ways. I’m trying to help people appreciate how Krishna can be multifaceted. He is after all a cowherd, a statesman, a musician, a dancer, a wrestler. I want them to understand how all these ideas come together to communicate Vedic ideas.
4. As you mentioned, most temples in India have Krishna idols that depict his childhood-face. How have Krishna’s stories changed the way we perceive God?
In temples, most people will keep images of Krishna as a baby. Increasingly, in the Gaudiya Vaishnava parampara, you keep Krishna with Radha. Politicians like to keep Krishna alone with the Sudarshan chakra, in his hand, or with Arjun on the battlefield. So I guess, different people like to look at Krishna differently.
In the bhakti temples of Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, you see, Radha Krishna, but in the major temples of India, you don’t see Krishna with Radha. The only temple where Krishna is shown as an adult is the Parathasarathy Temple in Chennai. Right now, the political ecosystem prefers the aggressive Krishna of Kurukshetra rather than the romantic Krishna. The romantic Krishna is preferred in television serials and Bollywood. The baby Krishna remains popular in the house.
5. What are the things you keep in mind while retelling a myth to the current generation; how do you think they perceive mythology? What are the challenges you face as a writer?
Every generation has the same emotional needs. Storytelling focuses on those emotional needs. We all have insecurities, we all seek love, we all fear hatred, and we yearn for affection and admiration. So, when you are telling the story, one must keep these needs of the reader in mind. That is how good storytelling emerges.
6. The world has become uncertain in every sense, especially after Covid. Do you think the past holds an answer to all these changes today?
Hindu mythology is very clear that nothing lasts forever. Everything constantly changes. Thus, it is designed around uncertainty and how to maintain one’s emotional well-being through turbulent times. COVID was just one of the many turbulent times we will endure in our lifetime. That is the way Indian mythology is designed. Modern narratives of modern societies are based on the idea that all will be well. They maintain that everything can be managed, controlled and organised. This is not true and we have realised this fact.
7. Would you agree that Indian mythology functions in a way that depicts masculinity and gender in a manner that has led to the stereotypes that exist in society today?
There is patriarchy in Arabia, there is patriarchy in America, and there’s patriarchy in Australia. Look at what’s happening in America, which mythology do you attribute it to?
As Indians, we are ashamed of our own traditions and heritage. We should not encourage such thinking. We have Krishna who becomes Mohini. We have Shiva who becomes Gopeshwar Mahadev in Mathura. Our gods are very comfortable being gender-fluid. You do not find this in other religions or other cultures. Does that make us less or more patriarchal? So these kinds of simplistic analogies should be best avoided.
8. With new storytelling mediums coming up, do you still prefer the physical form, or are you open to all these new digital formats?
I prefer all forms of storytelling. I write with different publishers in different styles. I like to write for children, adults, and business people. I can use audio, video, textual, and illustrated media to communicate stories and meaning. I like every medium, each one is a challenge.
9. How was your experience with Audible?
Audiobooks are challenge, because you have to modulate your voice as you can’t speak for more than 30 or 40 minutes a day. I have been helped by a lot of voice artists and sound engineers. And that has been a great learning experience. That is how I invested my COVID days.