Author and mythologist Devdutt Pattanaik draws liberally from Indian mythology in his lectures and books. He tells that many people read mythology without understanding it
Despite hailing from a country well known for its multitude of cultures and rich mythology, the average Indian’s knowledge of the scripture leaves something to be desired, according to Devdutt Pattanaik, author and mythologist. Devdutt, who chooses to describe himself as a “42-year-old plump guy”, has gained recognition for his extensive study of Indian mythology, the knowledge of which he draws upon to provide insights in his lectures and books.
Devdutt does business and management consulting, and is currently the Chief Belief Officer at Future Group, a designation that is aimed at making people curious about belief. “The fact of the matter is that many of our management practices are drawn from the West, which derives from Biblical and Greek beliefs. This foundation does not work well in the Indian context, as they stress on different values”, he says. He has written about this subject in his book Business Sutra, and has also participated in a series of the same name aired by CNBC TV18, where he discusses the Indian way of doing business, in his usual style, with mythological references.
Ask him what approach he adopts to promote a more Indian approach in these disciplines, and his features take on a look of amusement. “I do no such thing, I am not an evangelist. The concept of bringing about great change and bettering the world is again a Western concept. If there is a lesson our mythology teaches us it is that the world is the way it is, we should look at bettering ourselves before we think about the big picture,” he says.
As conversation turns to India’s many layered and diverse mythology, he explains that most people read mythology but do not understand it. “I explain to people what they think they know,” he says, going on to add, “Did you know that the Valmiki Ramayana has no mention of a ‘Lakshman Rekha’? Also, in a recent survey we did it was found out that there is a large section of the population that believes Yudhishtir is a character in the Ramayana.”
Devdutt trained in medicine and spent 15 years in healthcare before turning to business consulting. He studied mythology in parallel, realising his thirst for information on the subject exceeded the material already available, prompting him to take up his passion in earnest. Today, he has written over 25 books and 400 articles on the subject.
He reiterates that he found many answers in his studies that nobody had mentioned to him before, and some of these later turned into important lessons in leadership. “We all know that Indra desired Lakshmi, while she pursued Vishnu. In all honesty, most people in society today find themselves in Indra’s position, yet how many shrines do you find worshipping him in the country?” he asks with an inquisitive smile. “The point is that it is not about chasing success, it is about attracting it,” he adds.
Devdutt is currently a consultant for two television serials, Devon Ke Dev…Mahadev and the soon-to-be aired Mahabharat. He is also working on a book retelling the Ramayana, along the lines of Jaya, his earlier work in which he revisited the Mahabharata.
Society and mythology
Some of his other popular works include The Goddess In India, which explores goddess worship and lore and The Man Who Was A Woman, which delves into sexual behaviours considered immoral but which find mention in mythology. He has also written seven books for children and a look through his website www.devdutt.com reveals the rich repository of knowledge contained within his articles on various topics ranging from mythology in general to its application in defusing tensions at the workplace.
He explains that people have a habit of overcomplicating things with grand plans of change and revolution when all they need to do is focus on becoming better individuals and letting the world look after itself.
Debates on the current state of society, its roots, and methods of progress do not ruffle him in the slightest. “Another lesson that we can derive from our mythology is ‘As you give, so you get’, swaha and thathastu. It is your actions that determine the quality of your life, it is as simple as that,” he says jovially as he signs off.