Deconstructing the Divine

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7 Secrets Of Shiva , Devdutt Pattanaik: Book reviewDevdutt Patnaik has moved on from coaching management students and finding the links between management and mythology to mythology full time. This pair of books talks about the philosophies of the two most powerful gods in the Hindu pantheon, Vishnu and Shiva and the reasons why they are as they are in Hindu philosophy. Vishnu is referred to as the Preserver while Shiva is known as the Destroyer. Alternatively Vishnu is the householder, worshipped with sprigs of tulsi, a household plant, while Shiva is the hermit, worshipped with leaves of bilva, grown outside the house. Occasionally, however, they appear to change their roles – Vishnu in his Kalki avatar takes on the form of the destroyer, while Shiva, the most detached of gods is the only one with a wife and children.

These contradictions are explained in details in both books with the help of calendar art, statues and miniatures. The symbols that the gods carry, their mounts and the significances behind them are explained. The social context behind the popular myths is also detailed. As for example in the secret behind Vishnu’s Kalki avatar. Patnaik writes that ‘The story of Kalki starts appearing in Hindu scriptures at the time when India was overrun by a whole host of foreign marauders from Central Asia.’ And he attributes the reappearance of the story to Messianic influences of religions like Judaism, Christianity and Islam.

In the end, Pattnaik says, it is all about a matter of balance – between spiritualism and materialism, between nature which is all animal and culture which is all human. This is why the philosophies behind the gods do their balancing acts. Vishnu’s matsya avatar is linked to Manu’s law of the fish – Manu feeds the fish thinking it helpless and it gradually grows until it devours everything Manu has to offer and more – proving that helplessness and human kindness can be misplaced if we lose focus.

Shiva’s remoteness requires that he be made to sympathise with the human condition which is why the goddess devotes herself to arousing passion in him, first as Sati and then as Parvati, so that he breaks away from his remoteness and the simplicity of absolute power.

Those who study the Vedas may find many things to debate in Patnaik’s interpretations but those who are unfamiliar with the subject will welcome this straightforward expose of the divine in its different aspects.

7 Secrets of Vishnu and 7 Secrets of Shiva by Devdutt Patanaik
Published by Westland in India, 2011

Buy book online
Buy book online Buy book online
7 Secrets of Vishnu and 7 Secrets of Shiva
by Devdutt Patanaik

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Written by Anjana Basu