Devdutt Pattanaik’s caricatures provoke viewers to reflect on the relevance of mythology today

The walls of the Apparao Gallery are bare but for the bold sketches on display. Devdutt Pattanaik’s creations reflect what he thinks about mythology. “It’s like a jigsaw puzzle, yet everything is connected,” he says. His caricatures of Vishnu, Shiva and the other gods and goddesses that liven up his books are like puzzles and yet, they are connected; you find little clues and follow the stories as they unravel. The author who was recently in the city to launch his art exhibition, titled ‘LSD (Lakshmi, Saraswathi and Durga)’, spoke about mythology and its role in modern times.

“I’ve been studying mythology, and know what makes a god or a goddess recognisable,” he says. “One caricature depicts Kunti enchanted by the rising sun while another shows a woman holding a lotus flower, the allusion to nectar can be inferred by the viewer.”

Most of the caricatures on display are drawings from his books — Jaya and Mithya. Like the one of Parvathi (who can be recognised by the sugarcane in one hand and the parrot perched on the other) seated atop Shiva (a drum in one hand and a trishul in the other) whose eyes are closed to the mortal world. Krishna can be identified by his iconic peacock feathers and his cowherd image.

“Our knowledge of mythology comes from certain sources which we assume are right,” says Pattanaik. “For example, we all know only one version of the Ramayana. What about the Dandi Ramayan or the Krittivasi Ramayan? No one is even aware they exist. We don’t have a course on mythology because we don’t know where the subject could be classified. Is it literature? Or sacred studies? Or maybe just a lot of social ideas… and because of this, an entire generation has been denied so much knowledge.”

There’s a caricature of Krishna after the Kurukshetra war, lying under a tree — the scene is familiar; piercing his toe is an arrow that mortally wounds him. A hunter mistakes his toe for a deer. Yet another vivid portrait is of Viswaroopam, the Universal Form — all creatures are a part of it. Says Pattanaik, “Mythology is now witnessing a resurgence, what with people making fascinating discoveries. The scriptures are vast and complex; I try to simplify and present my view of them.”

His portraits of Lakshmi, Saraswathi and Durga are lucid. Lakshmi is seated on a lotus with an owl by her side (considered to be her twin Alakshmi) while Saraswathi holds a veena in one hand and the scriptures in another. Durga, with fiery eyes, sits beside a fierce lion, holding weapons. “These days, people construct a character that is convenient to critique. It’s like going to an Indian restaurant and saying that Indians only eat pickle. You’ve missed out on the entire thali. Which version of the epic have you heard, read or seen,” asks Pattanaik.

There are other caricatures too of ethereal beings like Ganga and Yamuna that Pattanaik has created specifically for the exhibition. Another is of the Goddess, an embodiment of everything that’s feminine.

Pattanaik recently launched his new book Business Sutra which uses ancient wisdom as management principles. This book has 200 caricatures. “On a conceptual level, the aim was to look at wealth, power and identity. To look at business as a yagna, where there is a lot of give and take, and to even see it as a seduction (sutra). Modern management is based on Greek and Biblical mythology. I realised this and wondered what it would be like if management were based on Indian mythology. In this global village, it is important to look at other viewpoints. For example, there’s a premise in Indian mythology that if there is no intellectual growth, there will not be economic growth either,” he says.

Pattanaik’s exhibition of art titled ‘LSD’ is on view at Apparao Galleries, No. 7, Wallace Gardens, 3rd Street, Nungambakkam, till March 20.

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