Great Indian epics like the Ramayana and the Mahabharata not only form the backbone of Indian mythology but are also the key to understanding our culture. They provide parents ample opportunities to impart values embedded in the Indian culture to kids. If utilised correctly, mythology can be a great educational tool for kids.
In keeping with this mind-set, Indian mythologist and children’s author, Dr Devdutt Pattanaik talks about the uniqueness of Indian mythology and why children should be encouraged to learn more about and from it.
PC: What was it that got you interested in mythology?
DP: Initially, it was a hobby during my childhood. It became more interesting when I realised that the stories were much more than entertainment. They portrayed human life.
PC: What are the distinct elements that set Indian mythology apart from other forms of mythology?
DP: The idea of rebirth is what differentiates Indian mythology from other mythologies. Other mythologies speak of afterlife.
PC: People dismiss mythology as mere tales of fantasy with no element of truth in them. Your opinion...
DP: Humans have an unlimited imagination. To have fantasy is to be human. To dismiss fantasy is to dismiss humanity. If we had not fantasised about planes, would we have built them? Justice, for example, is also human fantasy. We just don’t realise it. Most people delude themselves that their fantasies are real. That is human nature. Mythology is someone’s truth. Fantasy is no one's truth. Reality is everyone’s truth.
PC: What made you decide to write books for kids?
DP: Many people asked me to do so. It seemed a good idea.
PC: What can children learn from mythology?
DP: They can learn to appreciate the complexities of life - that villains are also human; that good people can also make mistakes.
PC: What are the challenges of writing for kids as opposed to writing for an older audience?
DP: While writing for kids, the challenge is to focus on one idea and avoid making the plot too complicated. The story should not be difficult for kids to understand.
PC: There seems to be a growing popularity of books on Indian mythology for children these days. Your comments…
DP: We rejected fantasy and sought answers in ‘realism’. But they clearly did not satisfy human needs. So, the need for the supernatural, the fantastic and the mythological.
PC: Indian mythology does have instances of violence in it. Should this material be downplayed when teaching children about it?
DP: Would you stop feeding children chicken and fish because killing them is violent? Would you stop growing crops in farms and building dams and canals that destroy ecosystems and animal habitats? Life is violent. Why deny that?
PC: How can parents encourage children to learn more about Indian mythology?
DP: By making them know more about myths from different parts of the world. And, by telling them what some people think is religion, is fantasy for others. Thus, the Holy Scriptures for one religion may be fantasy for those belonging to another religion. This will create appreciation of diversity.
PC: Should schools teach more about Indian mythology to students?
DP: Schools should teach all kinds of mythology. Unless you compare Indian mythology and contrast with non-Indian mythology you will never know what Indian mythology is.
PC: What are your favourite books that you would recommend for kids?
DP: I would recommend the Devlok series and Pashu.
PC: What are the projects you are currently working on?
DP: I am currently working on the Gita. (At the time of the interview, Dr Devdutt Pattanaik was working on the Gita. ‘My Gita’ has since been completed and published.)
PC: Your message for PC readers and their children?
DP: My message for the readers of PC and their children would be to read more.