7 Secrets of Shiva
Devdutt Pattanaik is a medical doctor by education, a leadership consultant by profession, and a mythologist by passion. He writes and lectures extensively on the relevance of stories, symbols and rituals in modern life. He has written over fifteen books which include 7 Secrets of Hindu Calendar Art (Westland), Myth=Mithya: A Handbook of Hindu Mythology (Penguin), Book of Ram (Penguin), Jaya: An Illustrated Retelling of the Mahabharata (Penguin).
Imagine a Western scholar. He, or she, is typically from Europe or America. All his life, he has been exposed to Judaism, Christianity or Islam, religions that frown upon any overt display of sexuality. To him, sexuality is almost always an act of rebellion, an expression of defiance against the establishment. It is seen as being modern.
So imagine his surprise when he comes to India and encounters temples embellished with images of men and women in erotic embrace. Imagine his bewilderment when he finds Hindus worshipping an image shaped like a phallus called Shoaling. This is what his ancestors, a hundred years ago, also encountered, and condemned as pre-modern, licentious and savage. The scholar finds them vicariously liberating. Keen to study and understand these images, he hunts for a suitable academy. He finds none in India. So he enrols in a Western institution, where he is guided Western academicians and is expected to follow methodologies developed and approved in the West. He starts reading texts as he would read the Bible, not realising that texts do not serve the same purpose in Hinduism. He decodes scriptures and image using his own cultural frameworks as the template. His casinos are published in respected academic papers that was accolades from Western academia, but they discomfort, even horrify, the average Hindu devotee.
Most Hindus become defensive and, like their 19th- century ancestors go out of their why to strip Hinduism of its sexual heritage. A few, especially these with political leanings, react violently, outraged by the conclusions. Accused of cultural intensity, outraged by the conclusions. Accused of cultural insensitivity, Western scholars sunken back saying that Hindus do know their own heritage and are still viewing Hinduism throat the archaic Victorian lens. Battle lines are drawn. They are drawn. Who is right, the arrogant academician or the stub devotee? It is in this context that I write this book.
I have noticed that the divide between Western academicians and Hindu devotees exists in their relative attention to form and though. From is tangible and objective, thought is intangible and subjective. Western scalars have been spellbound by the sexual from but pay scant regard to the metaphysical thought. In other words, they prefer the literal to the symbolic. Hindu devotees, in contrast, are so focused on the metaphysical thought that they ignore, or simply deny, the sexual from. The Western preference for from over thought stems from their cultural preference for the objective over the subjective. Hindus, on the other hand, are very comfortable with the subjective, hence can easily overlook from and focus on thought. This book seeks to bridge this wide gap between academics and practice.
• The first chapter looks at the meaning of the Shoaling beyond the conventional titillation offered by a phallic symbol
• The second chapter focuses on Shiva's violent disdain for territorial behaviour amongst humans
• The third and fourth chapters deal with how the Goddess gets Shiva to engage with the world out of compassion
• The next two chapters revolve around Shiva's two sons, Ganesha and Murugan, through whom he connects with the world
• The final chapter presents Shiva as the wise teacher who expresses wisdom through dance
This book seeks to make explicit patterns that are implicit in stories, symbols and rituals of Shiva firm in the belief that:
It is significant that the stories of Vishnu rose to prominence after the rise of Buddhism. Prior to that Hinduism was the religion of the elite based complex rituals known as yagna and esoteric speculations captured in texts known as the Aranyakas and the Upanishads. These seemed very distant to the common man who focused on fertility rituals worship of plants and animals and nature.
Buddhism spoke directly to the common man in the language of the people and addressed every day concerns. It naturally became very popular. But the Buddhist worldview leaned towards Monasticism. By contrast the Hindu worldview made room for both the hermit and the householder. To fire the imagination of the people moving towards monasticism this had to be communicated using a tool that the masses relished stories.
Stories of Vishnu communicate the hindu worldview from the point of view of the householder. This is complemented by stories of Shiva that communicate an equally valid but alternate viewpoint that of the hermit. Since both Vishnu and shiva were forms of God both worldviews that of the Householder and that of the hermit were held in equal regard.
To ensure that these stories were not reduced to entertainment they were deemed sacred and anchored with symbols and rituals. The symbols and rituals of Vishnu are different from the symbols and rituals of Shiva. For example Vishnu is visualized bedecked in gold while Shiva is worshipped smeared in ash Vishnu is offered sprigs of the Tulsi that is grown inside the house while shiva is offered leaves of the bilva that is grown outside the house Vishnu dances with his eyes open while Shiva dances with his eyes shut. Through these differences different ideas were communicated.
Wisdom that was once restricted to a few now reached everyone who chose to hear the stories look at the symbols and perform the rituals. Vishnu represents a key figure in the new story based Hinduism. He is a critical piece of what can be called the grand Hindu Jigsaw Puzzle.
To help readers unravel the secrets of Vishnu the chapters have been arranged as below:
• The first chapter focuses on how gender is used to explain fundamental metaphysical concepts integral to Hinduism
• The Second Chapter discusses the difference between man and animal.
• The third and fourth chapters focus on the Devas and the Asuras both of whom are unhappy as one struggles with insecurity and the other with ambition.
• The fifth and Sixth Chapters revolve around the Ramayana and Mahabharata as man struggles with his humanity.
• The seventh chapter is about the wisdom of letting go with faith in renewal.
Dr Devdutt Pattanaik is a medical doctor by training, a business consultant by profession and a mythologist by passion. He writes and lectures extensively on the relevance of sacred stories, symbols and rituals in modern times, and it is in this capacity that he has joined the Future Group as Chief Belief Officer where his role is to help construct the culture of the entire organization because from beliefs come behaviour.
Dr Pattanaik regularly writes in the Economic Times, Times of India, Hindustan Times, First City magazine and Sunday Midday. His many books include Myth-Mithya, Book of Ram, and Pregnant King.
The images in the book have been picked up from the street, from vendors who sit outside temples and sell their wares to pilgrims. Art historians have explained the origin of these images - how artists like Raja Ravi Varma and the printing technology of the nineteenth century ensured that these illustrations reached almost every Hindu household across India, and how they came to dominate the visualization of the common man’s faith. In recent times, foreign tourists have been captivated by their supernatural content and gaudy colours. Fashion gurus have used them on the catwalk, incorporating them on apparel and accessories to get the attention of consumers, collectors and the media. But few have stopped to think about them - where does this imagery come from? What are they saying? And, in ignorance, often innocence, sacred art has become fantasy art, used by some in ways that others consider disrespectful.
Attempts to explain the ‘fantastic’ imagery are usually either defensive, apologetic or chauvinistic, as one tries to legitimize the content using logic or comparisons with other religions. Faith can never be scientific and words like ‘sin’ and ‘prophet’ do not help in understanding the worldview of the Hindus.
To best appreciate Hindu art, one has to enter a new paradigm, a new way of explaining things. One has to explore new notions of perfection and possibility, quite different from the more familiar and more popular Greek, Biblical or Oriental worldviews. This book is an attempt to introduce the reader to this new paradigm.
The book consciously uses black and white renditions of the art so that the colors do not distract the reader from the content. Great attention as not been paid to the quality of the images as the point of the book is not the aesthetics of the image but the translation of this unique visual vocabulary created by our ancestors. I would have loved to list down and acknowledge each and every artist and printer; however, tracing them is virtually impossible since the images are not only mass-produced, but also constantly reproduced with minor changes by different artists; often, the same image is brought out by different printers.
Finally, like all things Hindu, the explanations is this book are just one of the many ways in which this art can be looked at Read this book, keeping in mind:
Within infinite myths lies the Eternal Truth
Who sees it all? Varuna has but a thousand eyes
Indra, a hundred
And I, only two.
‘The book has little gems scattered all over within its narrative… (a) truly amazing book…7 Secrets from Hindu Calendar Art is arguably the most well-researched book of (Devdutt Pattanaik).
Hindu mythology abounds with fascinating gods, goddesses and characters whose visual representations - through calendar art - are equally colourful. Hindu calendar art may seem fantastic and kitsch, but it is in fact the most democratic expression of a mythic imagery that was once restricted to temple walls and palm leaf manuscripts. These portraits of the Hindu pantheon of gods and the stories that surround them can be found on the walls and puja rooms of almost every Hindu household in India. Rich in symbols, each image is a piece of an ancient metaphysical jigsaw puzzle. In this book, Dr. Devdutta Pattanaik, India’s renowned mythologist, decodes these symbols to reveal a wisdom that has nourished India for thousands of years.
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