By Shikha Sreenivas
Almost all of us know the hundreds of stories that make up Ramayana and Mahabharata, which we have heard from dozens of sources — our grandparents, storybooks, cartoons and even TV serials. At the Times Litfest Bengaluru 2017, presented by ACT Fibrenet, there are several writers who have revisited the epics in their own books. These include Krishna Udayasankar, Sandhya Mulchandani and Samhita Arni.
Krishna is the author of the The Aryavarta Chronicles — Govinda, Kaurava and Kurukshetra. Sandhya is the author of The Indian Man – His True Colours, as well as the co-author of Love and Lust, a collection of short stories which date back to ancient India, until medieval India. Samhita is the writer of the bestselling graphic novel, Sita’s Ramyana, and The Missing Queen, a mythological thriller.
At the event titled ‘Divine Rockstars’, the three spoke about the rockstars of literary fiction today, from Krishna and Shiva to Vishnu. Sandhya and Krishna debated over the nature of the myth. While critiquing the kind of dichotomies that our myths have created over the years — creation and destruction, good and evil — Sandhya explained that the underlying philosophy is still of “oneness”.
Krishna explained that she doesn’t think there is any literal view behind the myth that we can ever reach, that there is no absolute truth. Their conversation became a philosophical debate, as Krishna said that it was interesting Sandhya brought up the Advaita principle. But, she still insisted on continuing the process of critique. “If you look at the oldest hymn in the Rig Veda, it is one of not knowing. It is inquiry, and an inquiry is fundamental about everything,” Krishna.
Sandhya said that the first moment ever in consciousness, is one of desire. Even for God. Because to create, you need desire. And from there on you can begin extrapolating what this desire is, and the multiple forms it takes. “I think there is wisdom in these ancient texts that is beyond recognition. And we fail to recognise this when we get caught up in the nitty-grittiess. ‘Is there a Ravana? Does he have ten heads? Does Vishnu have a shankha or chakra?’” She explained that there is a human tendency, to take an icon and attribute something to all the symbols — like when we ask why Shiva has matted hair or what the ash means.
Krishna explained that the problem for her with that logic was that she cannot leave symbols as they are and with meaning they are given, even though it is something we are told to do. She said that this meaning and symbolism also needs to be critically questioned, as well as the human inclination to attach this symbolism.
In her response, Sandhya explained that she agreed that one must always question. “What I’m saying is, to question is not wrong. But you cannot leave it midway. What it is based on is what we need to seek. Everybody has a right to seek. And in symbols, what you seek is what you will see.”
While both of them were on different pages, their inquiry into myth threw up several questions: Is there any absolute truth? Can a myth, which is retold a hundred times, have an single message behind it all? And is there any power we can find behind these myths? But of course, the beauty of myth and worship did not escape anyone.
Sandhya spoke about going to a salon to wash her hair shortly after being told the topic of the session. At the salon, her hairdresser had a huge tattoo of Nataraj on his left arm. “So I asked him, why do you have this tattoo? And he said, ‘Madam, you don’t know? He is the rockstar of fashion! Look at his manbun, look at his accessories!’” The audience burst into laughter, as Sandhya added, “But I guess, that’s another way of praying to God. Because each of us finds our own ways of worship.”