Our mythology is replete with rich metaphors that contain valuable insights on how we can successfully negotiate the turbulent waters worldly existence. They need to be understood metaphorically as well. To understand them literally is to lose the message contained in them. The blindness of King Dhrithrashtra is not merely physical: he was blinded by his love for Duryodhana (attachment), which he placed above all else, including dharma. That was the key to his undoing. Consider the case of Hanumana, son of Vayu, the “wind god.” As a child, he tried to swallow the sun! Full of mischief, he used to play pranks on sages involved in their austerities until the day came when they could bear it no longer. They cursed him by declaring that he would no longer remember his celestial powers. When his father Vayu heard of the curse, he restrained all movement in the universe.The world began to suffocate as it is impossible to survive without wind. The Gods rushed to him and beseeched him to revoke his stand. But Vayu refused and declared that until the curse on his son is revoked, he would not budge. The Gods approached the sages and understanding the gravity of the situation, they relented by declaring that if anybody recalled his powers, they would be restored to Hanumana. Only then did Vayu relent and the universe returned to its original state. Years later, when Sri Rama was seeking the whereabouts of his beloved Sita, he asked Hanumana if he could cross the ocean and visit Lanka to find out if Sita was alive and well. Hanumana was in a dilemma; how could he cross the ocean? Just then Jambavan, the king of the bears, began reciting Hanumana’s exploits as a child and it is said that as he was singing his praises, Hanumana rose in height, beauty and splendor. His confidence thus restored, he crossed the ocean without difficulty and returned after having performed some extraordinary exploits in Lanka. The insight of this tale is this: the intensity of your problem is determined by the smallness of your mind. If you allow your problem to grow in stature, you become small and thereby allow the problem to become big. On the other hand, if you can outgrow your problem and become a Hanumana, your problem becomes small because you are taller than the problem. If you want to successfully negotiate your life’s challenges, become a Hanumana. In the matter of devotion too, the figure of Hanumana is both inspiring and uplifting. They say in Kali Yuga, devotion is fastest means of achieving merger with the Supreme. When gifted with a garland of pearls by Sita Devi, he placed it upon his ear and bit into it with his teeth. When Sri Rama who was quite taken aback by this behavior asked him what he was doing, he replied by saying, “I want to see whether I can see Your form in these pearls. Otherwise they are of no use to me. Your Name alone is what I want.” On hearing these words, it is said that Lord Rama embraced this peerless devotee and said: “Maruti! What other gift can I give you? I shall give you Myself as the gift. Accept Me.” This is why it is said that we can be sure of Rama’s presence through Hanumana. It is also said that Lord Rama conferred upon Hanumana the gift of immortality and said that as long as His name survived in the world, the name of Hanumana would survive with Him. Once Lord Rama asked him why Hanumana always bowed and knelt to Him when he knew that there was no real difference between him and the Lord. Hanumana replied by saying: “My Lord when I am away from You, I know that there is no difference between you and I but when I come in front of You I can only approach you as Your slave!” Lord Krishna once asked Garuda, His mount, to bring some lotus flowers from the garden of Kubera, king of the yakshas. On the way, Garuda’s ego began to inflate and he thought how there was nobody who was equal to this task than him in the entire universe. Pleased with himself, he reached the garden and began plucking the flowers. Hanumana saw Garuda picking up the flowers and reprimanded him for taking the flowers without securing Kubera’s permission. Bloated by his ego, Garuda replied: “I am taking these flowers for Lord Krishna. I do not need any permission.” Hanuman was annoyed. He caught Garuda in his grasp and headed directly for Dwaraka. The earth trembled in panic. The Lord’s Sudarshana chakra stood in his way but he caught hold of it and held that too, in his armpit. The Lord was watching Hanumana’s actions with a bewitching smile and told his companions: “Hanumana is in a state of anger and he can be pacified only by the darshan of Rama and Sita, his consort. Otherwise he will lift Dwaraka single handed and drown it in the ocean.” Lord Krishna asked several of His consorts to assume the form of Sita but none of them could accomplish that transformation. They eventually called upon Radha Devi and both Lord Krishna and Radha Devi immediately assumed the form of Rama and Sita. Hanumana was overjoyed when he saw the divine couple. He prostrated joyfully to Rama and Sita even as he was firmly holding Garuda and the Sudarshana chakra under his arms. Lord Rama then asked Hanumana what he was holding under his arms and Hanumana gave the Lord, the following reply: “This is nothing my Lord. It is but a small matter. While I was engaged in doing my japa, a little bird came and disturbed me. I caught hold of it and kept it under my arm. Then a little chakra came and disturbed me and I kept that too under my arm. My Lord! If you wanted lotus flowers, all you have to do is to command me and I will bring it in as trice.” Pointing to Garuda, Hanumana said: “This weakling does not have the capacity to pluck flowers from the garden of such a mighty king as Kubera.” Lord Rama then addressed Hanumana: “My son. Leave these poor things with me. I am very happy that you brought them to me. Now go and resume your japa.” Garuda thought he was all powerful and the Sudarshana Chakra thought it was invincible. Lord Krishna’s consorts thought their physical beauty would suffice to make the transformation but they could not. In one powerful instance, the Lord taught them all the need to eschew the ego and surrender it to His sacred feet. Such was the nature of Hanumana’s devotion: pure, innocent and utterly without guile. The wonderful story of Hanumana teaches us many valuable lessons. He was able to cross the sea by the power of chanting His name; his first thought was victory to Lord, never for himself. It was always Jaya Sri Rama or “Victory to Lord Rama” on his lips. From being a monkey, he became an unparalleled devotee of the Lord. This is an instruction to human beings to conquer their monkey minds or as the late Satya Sai Baba said, from being a pashu (creature) to becoming a pashupati or the Lord of all beings. It teaches us the value of expanding our minds to outgrow our difficulties by embedding the inestimable value of devotion and surrender. There is no figure quite like Hanumana.

Our mythology is replete with rich metaphors that contain valuable insights on how we can successfully negotiate the turbulent waters worldly existence. They need to be understood metaphorically as well. To understand them literally is to lose the message contained in them. The blindness of King Dhrithrashtra is not merely physical: he was blinded by his love for Duryodhana (attachment), which he placed above all else, including dharma. That was the key to his undoing.

Consider the case of Hanumana, son of Vayu, the “wind god.” As a child, he tried to swallow the sun! Full of mischief, he used to play pranks on sages involved in their austerities until the day came when they could bear it no longer. They cursed him by declaring that he would no longer remember his celestial powers.

When his father Vayu heard of the curse, he restrained all movement in the universe.The world began to suffocate as it is impossible to survive without wind. The Gods rushed to him and beseeched him to revoke his stand. But Vayu refused and declared that until the curse on his son is revoked, he would not budge.

The Gods approached the sages and understanding the gravity of the situation, they relented by declaring that if anybody recalled his powers, they would be restored to Hanumana. Only then did Vayu relent and the universe returned to its original state. Years later, when Sri Rama was seeking the whereabouts of his beloved Sita, he asked Hanumana if he could cross the ocean and visit Lanka to find out if Sita was alive and well.

Hanumana was in a dilemma; how could he cross the ocean? Just then Jambavan, the king of the bears, began reciting Hanumana’s exploits as a child and it is said that as he was singing his praises, Hanumana rose in height, beauty and splendor. His confidence thus restored, he crossed the ocean without difficulty and returned after having performed some extraordinary exploits in Lanka.

The insight of this tale is this: the intensity of your problem is determined by the smallness of your mind. If you allow your problem to grow in stature, you become small and thereby allow the problem to become big. On the other hand, if you can outgrow your problem and become a Hanumana, your problem becomes small because you are taller than the problem. If you want to successfully negotiate your life’s challenges, become a Hanumana.

In the matter of devotion too, the figure of Hanumana is both inspiring and uplifting. They say in Kali Yuga, devotion is fastest means of achieving merger with the Supreme. When gifted with a garland of pearls by Sita Devi, he placed it upon his ear and bit into it with his teeth. When Sri Rama who was quite taken aback by this behavior asked him what he was doing, he replied by saying, “I want to see whether I can see Your form in these pearls. Otherwise they are of no use to me. Your Name alone is what I want.”

On hearing these words, it is said that Lord Rama embraced this peerless devotee and said: “Maruti! What other gift can I give you? I shall give you Myself as the gift. Accept Me.” This is why it is said that we can be sure of Rama’s presence through Hanumana. It is also said that Lord Rama conferred upon Hanumana the gift of immortality and said that as long as His name survived in the world, the name of Hanumana would survive with Him.

Once Lord Rama asked him why Hanumana always bowed and knelt to Him when he knew that there was no real difference between him and the Lord. Hanumana replied by saying: “My Lord when I am away from You, I know that there is no difference between you and I but when I come in front of You I can only approach you as Your slave!”

Lord Krishna once asked Garuda, His mount, to bring some lotus flowers from the garden of Kubera, king of the yakshas. On the way, Garuda’s ego began to inflate and he thought how there was nobody who was equal to this task than him in the entire universe. Pleased with himself, he reached the garden and began plucking the flowers.

Hanumana saw Garuda picking up the flowers and reprimanded him for taking the flowers without securing Kubera’s permission. Bloated by his ego, Garuda replied: “I am taking these flowers for Lord Krishna. I do not need any permission.” Hanuman was annoyed. He caught Garuda in his grasp and headed directly for Dwaraka. The earth trembled in panic. The Lord’s Sudarshana chakra stood in his way but he caught hold of it and held that too, in his armpit.

The Lord was watching Hanumana’s actions with a bewitching smile and told his companions: “Hanumana is in a state of anger and he can be pacified only by the darshan of Rama and Sita, his consort. Otherwise he will lift Dwaraka single handed and drown it in the ocean.”

Lord Krishna asked several of His consorts to assume the form of Sita but none of them could accomplish that transformation. They eventually called upon Radha Devi and both Lord Krishna and Radha Devi immediately assumed the form of Rama and Sita. Hanumana was overjoyed when he saw the divine couple. He prostrated joyfully to Rama and Sita even as he was firmly holding Garuda and the Sudarshana chakra under his arms.

Lord Rama then asked Hanumana what he was holding under his arms and Hanumana gave the Lord, the following reply: “This is nothing my Lord. It is but a small matter. While I was engaged in doing my japa, a little bird came and disturbed me. I caught hold of it and kept it under my arm. Then a little chakra came and disturbed me and I kept that too under my arm. My Lord! If you wanted lotus flowers, all you have to do is to command me and I will bring it in as trice.”

Pointing to Garuda, Hanumana said: “This weakling does not have the capacity to pluck flowers from the garden of such a mighty king as Kubera.”

Lord Rama then addressed Hanumana: “My son. Leave these poor things with me. I am very happy that you brought them to me. Now go and resume your japa.”

Garuda thought he was all powerful and the Sudarshana Chakra thought it was invincible. Lord Krishna’s consorts thought their physical beauty would suffice to make the transformation but they could not.

In one powerful instance, the Lord taught them all the need to eschew the ego and surrender it to His sacred feet. Such was the nature of Hanumana’s devotion: pure, innocent and utterly without guile.

The wonderful story of Hanumana teaches us many valuable lessons. He was able to cross the sea by the power of chanting His name; his first thought was victory to Lord, never for himself. It was always Jaya Sri Rama or “Victory to Lord Rama” on his lips.

From being a monkey, he became an unparalleled devotee of the Lord. This is an instruction to human beings to conquer their monkey minds or as the late Satya Sai Baba said, from being a pashu (creature) to becoming a pashupati or the Lord of all beings. It teaches us the value of expanding our minds to outgrow our difficulties by embedding the inestimable value of devotion and surrender.

There is no figure quite like Hanumana.

http://indiafacts.co.in/lessons-from-the-story-of-lord-hanumana/

Ancient mythology in modern avatars

SWATI DAFTUAR
There are scattered indicators — popular guest appearances by Chhota Bheem at birthday parties for giddy 10-year-olds, headlines that announce Baahubali’s roaring, thumping box office success; over four million YouTube views and counting for Sujoy Ghosh’s short film, Ahalya; the indisputable place of honour that Amish Tripathi’s Shiva Trilogy has in almost every bookstore in the country, and finally, the eagerness with which each of these is discussed, analysed, criticised and praised, but never ignored. Scattered, yes, but these indicators are also connected in a way that seems to indicate that once again there is a wave of creators and consumers dipping into the rich well of Hindu mythology that never seems to runs dry.

It is necessary to say “once again” because there have been definite precedents. Hindu mythology has, over time, continued to remain a favoured trope across mediums and genres in Indian popular culture. Impossible to forget Raja Harishchandra, the first full-length feature film that gave birth to Indian cinema; equally impossible to forget the mass obsession that was Doordarshan’sMahabharata, or the literary masterpiece that was Ramdhari Singh Dinkar’s Rashmirathi. “I think that the mythology genre has always been the most popular genre in India. This is especially true of books published in Indian languages like Hindi, Tamil, Kannada, Telugu, Marathi, Malayalam, Gujarati, Bengali, besides others,” says author Amish Tripathi. Professor Susan Visvanathan echoes him. “Mythology never dies, it resurfaces with new interests. The seed of myth is the archetype, the myths condense the very meaning of existence,” says Visvanathan, Chairperson and Professor at the Sociology, Centre for the Study of Social Systems, School of Social Sciences, Jawaharlal Nehru University, Delhi.

What then is different today? Every age comes with its own interpretations and approach, as does ours. The narrative that defines us, or at least an aspect of us, lies within this approach. Today, as we see publishers with long, seemingly unending list of mythological fiction and popular TV shows and movies revolving around characters from our epics, we find that while our original source might be the same as the one used by those in the past, both our approach to it and the way we consume this genre has changed, with characteristics unique to our times.

To begin with, in literature the shift has been a very prominent and obvious one. Tripathi expands on his statement about the mythology genre in regional languages and says that till recently, not too many books of this genre were published in English in India. “Was that because the Indian English-language publishing industry did not want to publish such books or the Indian English-language readers did not want to read such books? I don’t know. But what is good now is that today the genre has become popular in English as well.” Westland’s CEO Gautam Padmanabhan further explains how this change has come about. “Initially all Indian publishers were targeting only the English educated elite that grew up on a staple of imported literature. Our first wave of writers in English mostly came from this demographic. The last 10-15 years have seen the emergence of a larger group of people who did not grow up with English as a first language and are therefore more comfortable with writers who write English using a more Indian idiom. The themes that these writers tackle also appeal to the aspirations and interests of this emerging demographic. These authors sell far in excess to the earlier wave of Indian writers. Interestingly their works work well when translated into various Indian languages.”

The next, and perhaps the most telling, characteristic is our need for a hero, along with the story. Mythologist and best-selling author Devdutt Pattanaik says that he finds this particular phenomenon fascinating. “I find many Indian mythologies being approached using Western heroic structures. (It) indicates how we have become so westernised that we don’t realise what we consider universal is actually rooted in Greek and Abrahamic myths, which is why we seek heroes and villains and martyrs even in Hindu stories that follow a very different non-linear cyclical structure.” Pattanaik’s observation holds true when we look at most mythological fiction, movies and television shows. In Sankatmochan Mahabali Hanumaan, an Indian television show that airs on Sony Entertainment Television, we see a larger than life titular character. In Arjun: The Warrior Prince, a 2012 Indian animated film, one Pandava brother becomes the hero of a story that was, originally, a multicast affair. Whether it is the Shiva of Tripathi’s trilogy or Baahubali’s Shivudu, we seem intent on finding ourselves our own mythological hero.

As some look for saviours, others seem to be delving into the grey areas in our myths, and it seems that the stories we grew up with can be dissected and analysed, and are not, indeed, sacrosanct. Today, more than ever, there seems to be a surge in books, movies and art that analyse episodes and epics in Hindu mythology, reading it from a contemporary perspective, and deriving from it meaning that was previously unexplored. Artist Moyna Chitrakar and author Samhita Arni explore Ramayana from Rama’s abandoned queen’s perspective in their graphic novel, Sita’s Ramayana, while Sujoy Ghosh’sAhalya turns the story of Sage Gautama’s wife on its head, weaving in strains of sexuality and feminism. These, and several other instances of creative reinterpretation of Hindu myths, are supplemented by an increase in dialogue and critical analyses by readers, thinkers and academics themselves.

This aspect perhaps ties up with Campfire’s director Girija Jhunjhunwala’s perspective. Campfire publishes graphic novels and its mythology genre list is a long one. “The probable reason for this resurgence, so to speak, is the universal appeal of the character’s journey that is being retold in these newer versions. Changing the mode of narration-from the universal to an individual’s point of view-and bringing out the human side of these god-like characters has changed the readers’/viewers’ way of looking at them. These characters possess all human emotions including the baser ones. They fight, they bleed and their actions are not always driven by a higher purpose. These are some things that every person can relate to.” Relate to, and indeed, scrutinise. The epics themselves have been reinterpreted in a way that makes them more human and less godly. We find ourselves questioning storylines, picking holes and critiquing characters, connecting them with contemporary ideas and issues. Of the epic, Visvanathan says, “It is therefore the most novelistic form, and it combines post-modern interpretations quite comfortably without ever completing the story.”

Jhunjhunwala’s observation also relates to another important point — that of fictionalising mythology. Pattanaik, who has been writing now for 20 years, explains the difference between the study of mythology, and mythological fiction. “Mythology is subjective truth of a people transmitted in sacred stories, while mythic fiction is about reframing or rearguing or reimagining old stories to suit contemporary needs.” He adds that he’s seen a rise in mythological fiction of late. “It is essentially great fiction but with a foot in India’s mythic tradition.” Jhunjhunwala, speaking from the perspective of a publishing house that specialises in graphic novels, says that mythological content offers great raw material to an artist. “As most of these stories are based on quasi-truths or complete myths, the artist’s mind is free to imagine any world that he likes! At the end of the day, it is his vision that reader sees. The artist’s vision enables the reader to view a whole other world. This enhanced visual reading is also a big reason behind why the genre of mythology is doing well, especially in the case of graphic novels.” The already rich, multi-dimensional content of Hindu mythology has become the blueprint for many new stories.

What of our own story, though? Does this resurgent interest in Hindu mythology, whether in fictionalising it or in interpreting it, account for our own increasing pride in our heritage? Well, considering that almost all of popular culture’s mythological source is Hindu, this particular issue treads a thin line between our religious identity and a national one. “Hindutva did bring along a lot of changes in the moral consciousness of people by its carnivals, its calendars and its all night celebrations with images and Gods. The velocity of its image production is unmatched. Traditional art forms have always been prevalent, and the image making communities found a new market with the revivalist ethos. Secular state endorsed the production of images whether for the sake of art, preservation of ancient sites, or for political use” says Visvanathan.

Padmanabhan credits the recent rise of interest in this genre to an overall pride in being Indian. “The opening up of the Indian economy in the 1990s and the resulting economic success has led to a sense of pride in being Indian and celebrating all things Indian. The perception of India has also dramatically changed the world over. It is now routine to read glowing reviews of films like Baahubali in The Guardian and The New York Times!”

Can we then assume that this resurgence of Hindu myths is removed from a specific religious identity? Have the Hindu epics and myths been around for so long that they have come, in a manner of speaking, into public domain? Or does what Visvanathan says still hold true? With the continued reinforcement of Hindu iconography across mediums, is there also a subconscious reinterpretation and revival of Hindu nationalism and identity?

Perhaps the answer is yet to be entirely formed. Right now, this revival of interest is still fairly new and not entirely unproblematic in its approach. We see-saw between uber masculine, patriarchal symbols and critical and creatively progressive reinterpretations. In a lot of ways, our approach to mythology in popular culture mirrors our own see-sawing reality; one that has not quite understood or defined its own identity, and is still mulling over one or the other.

http://www.thehindu.com/features/magazine/swati-daftuar-on-ancient-mythology-in-modern-avatars/article7540669.ece?homepage=true

A Blockbuster That Busts Old Myths

Ravi Shankar

In pre-EMI days, even owning an Ambassador car was a luxury. Then, the conversation of the elite was about excoriating social conscience. Anything which celebrated excess was aesthetically evil. Indian cinema, which both reflects and influences public opinion, had based its narrative on the socialist ethos of glorifying poverty and portrayed the rich girl marrying the village boy as a triumph of virtuous Indian culture. Arthouse cinema was the intellectual symbol of secularism. Filmmakers like Shyam Benegal and Mrinal Sen became the ambassadors of conscience, whose world was dark and oppressed by social evils and existential angst; exploited tribals, feminism and feudalism formed their cinematic mosaic. India was too serious those days. Camera cavaliers like Muzaffar Ali and Mahesh Bhatt were the millionaire messiahs exposing the septic underbelly of India—loss and the loser were their main leitmotifs. Entertainment was considered a diversion for the retarded masses and poverty was snobbish in art.

Not anymore.

Bahubali—the Beginning, the most expensive Indian film ever made, concluded its first week with a record-breaking collection at the worldwide box office making Rs 255 crore. This is an unprecedented feat in Indian cinema. Even the paid premieres shown in the US set a new record by collecting over $1 million. B-Town is stunned. A south Indian film, produced and directed by south Indians with a cast of south Indian stars, has Bollywood squirming in disbelief. After all, Chennai Express, which spoofed the archetypal south Indian, did put a few more crores in SRK’s designer pocket.

Bahubali is an unabashed canvas of India’s cultural past, where mythology uses special effects to create a blockbuster in which there is no socialist or religious angst, but only the vengeance of Bharat. It doesn’t try to show the secular credentials of Jodhaa Akbar, the doomed beauty of Umrao Jaan or the ambiguous politics of Haider. Unlike PK, the inimitable Aamir Khan’s bemusing film about an alien landing in India and questioning gods and goddesses, which drew much flak from Baba Ramdev and the Vishwa Hindu Parishad, Bahubali is a Hindu tale, drawn from Bharat’s past in brilliant technicolour, where good defeats evil in a spectacular fashion, sans the pathos of Benegal’s Ankur or Adoor Gopalakrishnan’s Swayamvaram. The sheer chutzpah of its director and actors infects the audience with a superhuman energy. It’s a bird… it’s a plane… wait, it’s Bahubali, the Hindu Superman!

When art becomes propaganda, the message is that the messenger is the medium. Propaganda films are driven by a national idea, which idealises and idolises the ordinary citizen, who surmounts great difficulties and triumphs in the end to become the epitome of patriotic virtue. Indian art cinema was a form of socialist propaganda that showed only a world of extremes: the powerful rapist zamindar and the helpless village woman. Unlike their flip Bollywood cousins, there is no Singham to take revenge. Their insidious message was: it was shameful to be an Indian unless he or she joined a film club at Alliance Française.

But India is rediscovering a glitzy past, rejecting the post-colonial flea-bitten poverty chic era Midnight’s Children grew up in. At a time when Gajendra Chauhan is being pilloried by intellectually contemptuous students, with support coming even from Salman Khan, liberals consider any expression of nationalism in art as a sign of cultural fascism. But Bahubali—which the social media is joyfully acclaiming as a Hindu film that brings the nation’s heritage into masala technicolour—is a sign that nationalist cinema can go beyond Manoj Kumar and Mother India. It marks the passing of a late unlamented age. The times they are a-changin’.

This is not to say that social introspection is irrelevant, or that poverty, deprivation and gender crimes need not be redressed. The point of Bahubali is simply that nationalism, too, can become a box office hit and be it Bhima or Bahubali, Make in India has given Made in Bharat a whole new meaning.

 ravi@newindianexpress.com

http://www.newindianexpress.com/columns/ravi_shankar/A-Blockbuster-That-Busts-Old-Myths/2015/07/19/article2927707.ece