More to mythology than meets the eye

Four women from the epics will be discussed at a lecture on Sunday

Updated - October 12, 2017 04:18 pm IST

Published - October 12, 2017 04:17 pm IST

A scene from mythology

A scene from mythology

In the Ramayana, Kaikeyi, is often seen in a negative light, considered responsible for sending Lord Ram to the forests. But were her actions influenced by jealousy, insecurity and hope for a better future for her son, Bharat, or were they an act of redemption for her previous birth where she was the disobedient wife of a Brahmin? These are some of the questions that will be answered by Utkarsh Patel, a professor of Comparative Mythology at the Mumbai University and Arundhati Dasgupta Singhal, author, editor and mythologist, as part of their lecture — Good Wives, Virgins and Other Women in Mythology — that will be held at Studio Tamaasha. The lecture is organised by the Talking Myths Project, a curated online archive of myths from across the Indian subcontinent founded by Patel and Singhal along with Dr Vidya Kamat Parthan, a research scholar and Professor of Comparative Mythology.

Academicians Vidya Kamat Parthan, Arundhati Dasgupta Singhal and Utkarsh Patel

Academicians Vidya Kamat Parthan, Arundhati Dasgupta Singhal and Utkarsh Patel

Through this lecture, this trio of academicians aims to examine the roles of Draupadi, Kunti, Kaikeyi and Sita in the epics and Puranas in the context of women in the Indian society. Patel says, “What is the definition of a good wife? Who is a virgin? Virginity has always been an important issue in mythology. Today, it is defined in terms of physical factors but in the ancient times, it was perceived differently. Kaikeyi has become the archetype of a scheming stepmother. We will take numerous examples from mythology and juxtapose them with the present.”

As part of their academic research and studies, the trio has learnt that oral tales change over a period of time. For instance, the way Ram is portrayed in Valmiki’s Ramayana is different than that of Krittivasi Ramayan (the Bengali translation of the epic by 15th century Bengali poet Krittibas Ojha). The perception changes according to the social milieu and the trio plans to give share perspectives about the different versions that exist with the talk.

Documenting myths

Three years ago, Patel, Singhal and Parthan decided to set up an online repository to document the diverse myths, folklore, fables of the Indian sub-continent. “Many things have been happening in mythology. And we felt a lot of it wasn’t happening in the right manner. We thought that we should do something to put it in semblance. We decided to set the Talking Myths Project. Through it, we wanted to define the myth, the legend, the folktale and the fable. Most of us think all of these are the same thing. Moreover today, myth is equated to a lie, whereas myth means a sacred tale or a story,” says Patel.

The three academicians also felt that the archive should celebrate the rich, oral history traditions that are passed down generations. “Our country has a rich repertoire of stories across genres but younger minds are not too keen to read them. Also, very soon an entire generation of people, who knew these tales and shared them like family elders, would no longer be around. These tales of an oral nature will soon be replaced by those that we have been reading for ages. We thought of creating an online archive where we curated such stories from contributors,” adds Patel.

Anyone can contribute tales to the site that they have either read or heard. Once the contribution is in, Patel, Singhal and Parthan assigns it to the category — folktale, myth, legend, belief and tradition, taboo and didactic tale, depending on the genre and region it originated from.

In a bid to spread awareness about these eclectic stories, The Talking Myths Project has been conducting lectures at Trilogy, Lower Parel, for the past two years. Some of them have included topics such as the making of the Indian wedding in which they traced the curious myths and symbols of Hindu marriage rituals from the Vedic era to Hindi cinema, untold tales of the Ramayana, the sun and the many myths surrounding it and folktales through the eyes of a woman.

In order to cater to a suburban audience, lectures are also being conducted at Studio Tamaasha in Versova.

“Indians are born story tellers. All of us have grown-up listening to stories and have a viewpoint about them. Though our archive focuses on stories from the Indian sub-continent, in our lectures we have often spoken about German and Scandinavian mythology and done a comparative study on them. These stories are ageless, timeless and the only way to keep them alive is by sharing them,” says Patel.

Good Wives, Virgins and Other Women in Mythology will be held on October 15, 7 p.m. at Studio Tamaasha, Versova; see for more details

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