Review Society

Adbhut: Marvellous Creatures of Indian Myth and Folklore by Meena Arora Nayak: Book of awesome

Vishnu in his Varaha avatar riding an elephant

Vishnu in his Varaha avatar riding an elephant | Photo Credit: Staeske Rebers

My introduction to Hiraman was through the CBT publication, Folktales of India, which featured a couple of stories about the talking parrot. So, chancing upon it in Meera Arora Nayak’s Adbhut: Marvellous Creatures of Indian Myth and Folklore was like meeting an old friend. And there are many such to be met within these pages.

“The Varaha avatara is the most interesting. The traditional tale has Varaha the boar lift the Earth from cosmic waters and kill the asura Hiranyaksha. Nayak unearths tales that have the boar rampaging across the earth producing children with demonic natures”

Nayak’s selection of creatures ranges from the fantastic to the ordinary and, in her Introduction, she offers an explanation for this. After an encounter with a deer during the lockdown, she writes, “I realised what was lacking in my vision of the book: the sense of wonder that comes from perceiving something marvellous, which is necessarily a viewer’s response. Hence, even a simple cardinal or deer is marvellous; we have just forgotten how to see the marvel.”

Fantastic beasts

The book is divided into five sections — Creatures of the Sky; Creatures of the Sea; Creatures of Earth; Other Creatures of Air, Water, and Land; and Creations of Amalgam — and draws on Hindu, Muslim, Christian, Parsi and Buddhist myths. In some cases, Nayak offers gives a straightforward narration of the story. In others, she has offers a commentary on of how it has become part of socio-cultural milieus. The only exception is the “Byangoma and Byangomi”, where she reproduces Rabindranath Tagore’s introduction to Thakurmar Jhuli. It’s a sort of potted history of the tales and I couldn’t help wishing that just one of those stories had been expanded on.

Cover of Adbhut: Marvellous Creatures of Indian Myth and Folklore

Cover of Adbhut: Marvellous Creatures of Indian Myth and Folklore

Of the eight stories in Creatures of the Sea, three are from the Dashavatara (the 10 incarnations of fo Vishnu). Nayak gives three different versions of the Matsya avatara. The Varaha avatara is the most interesting. The traditional tale has Varaha the boar lift the Earth from cosmic waters and kill the asura Hiranyaksha. Nayak unearths tales that have the boar rampaging across the earth producing children with demonic natures.

Read and marvel

Nayak also points out how the humans and the animal world are intimately connected; something that we seem to have forgotten today. She quotes from the Rig Veda, the Genesis story in the Bible and the Quran to underline this link. Among the interesting stories are those of the serpents — the one in the Garden of Eden and Sheshnaag and Takshaka from Hindu myths and Pakhangpa the Guardian Python of Manipuri myth — of Bhramari the Beehive Goddess and the Shamir the stone-cutting worm.

Luckily, this book doesn’t have to be read in any specific order. Dip into the story that catches your fancy. And let a little of the wonder it arouses spill over into the world around you.

Adbhut: Marvellous Creatures of Indian Myth and Folklore; Meena Arora Nayak, Aleph, ₹499

krithika.r@thehindu.co.in


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Printable version | Jun 21, 2022 7:19:36 pm | https://www.thehindu.com/society/review-of-adbhut-marvellous-creatures-of-indian-myth-and-folklore-by-meena-arora-nayak/article65439075.ece