Animals don’t tell stories. Plants don’t tell stories. Rocks don’t tell stories. They don’t need to. They know who they are in the food chain and the pecking order of their pack, or herd, or hive.
Humans tell stories, because we need to. They tell us who we are in this world by giving the world a structure. Stories transform us into heroes, villains, victims, and martyrs. Without stories, we have no identity; we are just animals with imagination. Neuroscientists and psychologists around the world are finally appreciating the value of storytelling in human lives.
Ancient Indian sages were called rishis, those who saw what others did not see. They had discovered the value of stories a long time ago. The word for story, katha, and epic narrative, ka-avya, is rooted in ka, the first alphabet of Sanskrit, which is also the root of all interrogative words, in Sanskrit, as well as in Hindi today: kab (when), kahan (where), kyon (why), kaun (who). In Veda, Ka is one of the earliest name of God.
Ka-tha and ka-avya means stories and poems that enable humans to answer the questions about their existence and purpose. They are maps of the human mind. Mahabharata and Ramayana were kathas and ka-avyas, composed by Vyasa, the sage who compiled and classified the Vedic mantras into chapters (mandalas), who passed it on to bards or sutas.
Mythology is study of subjective truth revealed through stories; it tells us what people believe to be true and what people believe is indifferent to rationality.
Devdutt Pattanaik is an Indian physician turned leadership consultant, mythologist, author and communicator whose works focus largely on the areas of myth, religion, mythology, and management.