Among the many things that come to our mind when we think of Hinduism, polytheism is one. The world’s oldest faith has 330 million gods. All the gods have legends, unique customs and rituals associated with them. Some even have festivals dedicated to them. For a novice, Hinduism could be a vast ocean of myths, legends, and rituals. However, should we take a closer look, it unravels itself and answers questions about life. It does so, often using mythology as a vehicle.
Mythologist Devdutt Pattanaik demystifies Hindu mythology and introduces us to Hindu philosophy in his book Myth=Mithya: Decoding Hindu Mythology. He writes, “This book explores the Hindu mythology. Behind the mythology is a myth. Behind the myth a truth: an inherited truth about life and death, about nature and culture, about perfection and possibility, about hierarchies and horizons.” And this truth, according to him, is hidden beneath the hyperbolic and fantastical nature of mythology. Pattanaik takes Narayana, an avatar of the Hindu god Vishnu, for instance. Narayana rests in a state of dreamless sleep, on a coiled serpent. As fantastical as this might seem, Pattanaik draws profound meaning–and a ‘subjective truth’–from this mythical representation. This state is called Pralaya, a state of dissolution, and the coiled snake represents the timeless nature of Purusha, the universal consciousness with unlimited potential.
The purpose of anyone’s life is to discover this truth. And as Pattanaik writes, the only way to go about it is by engaging with the world.