A fresh take on Kartikeya
Kartikeya: The Destroyer’s Son
Author- Anuja Chandramouli
Publisher- Rupa, Rs 295
The book reminds one of the significant role that mythology plays in the shaping of individual identity as well as their sense of tradition and culture, writes TANYA
Mythology is much more intimately entwined with our lives than we realise. Apart from being an element crucial to our culture, it also strongly contributes to our moral make up. Most of us have grown up reading about and listening to tales from the epics and from the folk culture. The fascinating adventures of celestial beings, their supernatural strengths and miracles have an impact on us.
In the modern times, various thinkers have held diverse views on myths and their significance in the contemporary society. EB Taylor, considered to be the father of cultural evolutionism, had opined that myths were a failed attempt at science. They are the theories primitive people devised to understand the world.
His views were echoed by others, too. For instance, the ‘Orientalist and philologist’ Max Muller considered myth to be the “disease of language”. In his classic work The Golden Bough, Scottish social anthropologist James Frazer posited three stages of development for the human culture — primitive magic, religion and science. Myth was all-encompassing in the first stage, archaic but still powerful in the second stage and unnecessary in the scientific stage.
Representing a counter view, the likes of Carl Jung suggested that mythical stories connected individuals and societies with the “collective unconscious” in which all humans partake. It’s one of mankind’s ways of interacting with the vast unseen world.
Romanian thinker Mircea Eliade theorised that myth helped individuals know how to make sense of their world and how to behave in their society. Combined with religious ritual, myth helped them connect with deep shared societal events, memories, and values.
Building on the works of Jung and Eliade, mythologist Joseph Campbell argued that myth has an important function in society in four ways — it evokes a sense of awe, it supports a religious cosmology, it supports the social order and it introduces individuals to the spiritual path of enlightenment.
Thus, while some brush them off as a fanciful flight of human imagination and creativity, myths are here to stay. In fact, in an increasingly global and interconnected world, myths have been made omnipresent with their portrayal in the popular culture. Think about books, TV series and movies on ancient epics, gods, the supernatural and the superheroes. Relished by all equally, myth is now a universal language that transcends cultural boundaries. Often responding to eternal questions like the meaning of existence, the importance of being good, the righteous path, recognizing and preventing evil and wordly trappings, myths could very well be thought of as illustrative stories, encapsulating knowledge from centuries and serving as a guide to good conduct and good life.
Mythic heroes in movies communicate the universal values of love, fraternity, tolerance and good in their fight against the evil. And in violent and volatile world as ours, these stories serve as a much better way to communicate more effectively and more universally.
Thus, myths both entertain and educate. The modern authors are earnestly responding to this heightened demand of the genre; reinterpretations and retellings of ancient epics, folklore and mythology seems to be the literary flavour of the moment. The trend has spurred several Indian authors to delve deep into the rich mythological traditions of our country for inspiration and tell stories that reach out to a much wider audience.
Anuja Chandramouli is among the new age classicists who are seamlessly blending mythology with fantasy and serving thrilling tales from the past for contemporary readers. Creating her own space within the growing body of work in the genre, she mishmashes lesser known facets of characters with stories that are commonplace, churning out a racy, well-paced and well researched narrative.
Her latest offering sets out to explore Kartikeya — the son of Shiva and Parvati — the difficult events that led to his birth,the promised warrior who would defeat the demons that had usurped the Indralok, the brave lad who would lead the Devas as their commander-in-chief.
But, valour, strength, and brute force — is that all there is when one talks about the Hindu Gods of war? Or, is there is a benevolent, compassionate, and forgiving side to the handsome warrior-philosopher?
Kartikeya, while being a relatively popular deity in South India, known variously as Murugan, Skanda, Kumara, Subramanya, Swaminatha, is not as extensively known as his parents and the other sibling, especially in Northern regions. The book thus provides an opportunity for all to savour the anecdotes about the elusive and often misunderstood Kartikeya.
All the characters in the book, including the Gods and demons, are portrayed as fallible and human; sometimes all too human, they commit grave blunders, they repent, they are scared, they are jealous and selfish, they redeem themselves. Themes of love, loss, compassion, desire, betrayal, rage, devotion criss-cross the narrative. It makes the story very relatable, though in some places, the tone, tenor and language, flirtations and unabashed liaisons of the revered deities may startle some!
Nevertheless, the storyline is crisp and light, enlightening and informative, not in the least offensive or hurting the sentiments of readers, whatever their religious affiliations may be.
A slight gripe with the book is that it goes overboard with use of adjectives. The narrative is interspersed with heavy duty words that are not commonplace in everyday English language. Reaching for a dictionary in midst of an interesting plot point is like a speed bump. This jargon-y approach to storytelling may put off some readers, especially when a decorative word breaks their flow.
Throughout the book, the narrative is complemented with a subtle social commentary by the author. And, it is never prescriptive or preachy.
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