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‘Mythology is a western word, the actual word is ‘itihas’’ …says writer Amish Tripathi

Amish Tripathi, bestselling author of Shiva trilogy who has retold the Ramayana in his latest book ‘Scion of Ikshvaku’ will be in Goa for the inaugural function of the Centre for Study of Mythology and Culture, Goa, on October 23. Tripathi will give a talk on ‘Interpreting Ramayana’. In a telephonic interview with NT BUZZ, the former banker whose main forte is mythology or ‘itihas’ as he likes to call it, believes that opposition to books based on mythology reinterpreted is usually seen because many writers themselves instigate controversy with the aim of garnering publicity. He maintains that no opposition is raised if respect is maintained while writing about history and as case in point refers to his writings. Further declining to comment on the recent giving away of Sahitya Akademi awards by some 40-odd Indian writers and the rising intolerance witnessed in the country, Amish, devout devotee of Lord Rama and Lord Shiva, opines that post-independence religious violence in the country in minuscule


Q: Your latest book, Scion of Ikshvaku is a re-imagination of the Indian epic Ramayana. What inspired you to take a re-look at the Ramayana?

I believe that there is lot to learn from our mythology. They are fantastic stories. Also, when I am re-interpreting mythology, be it the Shiva trilogy or the latest book on Ramayana, I am looking at the core philosophy behind those stories. This is the root of all my books. When I wrote about Shiva I was interested in knowing what evil is while through the story of Lord Ram I am looking at the root of what makes an ideal society.


Q: Is it necessary/important for a society to take a re-look at its mythology?

Mythology is a western word the actual word is ‘itihas’, which means history, the way it all happened. Through these stories we learnt the philosophies of life and every age learns in a different manner. The knowledge of Ramayana that we have today is based on Ramanand Sagar’s television serial from the 1980s, which was itself based on Ramcharitmas and we all know that Ramcharitsmas is different from Valmiki’s Ramayana. Ramayana’s interpretation changes with time.


Q: There are always issues raised when mythology is re-interpreted, especially in today’s times. Few years ago, in Goa, a right wing group stopped the screening of an animation movie ‘Sita Singing the Blues’ because they believed that it portrayed Lord Ram, Seeta and other gods in a bad light. Comment.

I can’t comment about the instance which you mentioned as I am not aware of the film. But in 95 per cent of such cases, these controversies are created by the writer himself for the sake of publicity. Only five per cent of the cases are genuine. When you write with respect no one will raise any issue. Being a devout devotee of Lord Ram and Lord Shiva, I write with respect. Some people may not agree with what I have written, but they know that I have written with respect. The proof of the pudding lies in eating, and thus I have never come across any such opposition to my books.


Q: Do you believe that today in India we are seeing a greater inclination towards believing mythological fantasies over questioning and enquiring into facts behind some mythologies? For example we have seen some politicians and scientists making reference to some mythical fact or actions to state as proof that India was once a developed nation, etc.

If you look at the ancient scientific data of our country you will realise that India was indeed a developed nation. As late as 1700 (before British entered India) India contributed 24 per cent of the world’s GDP. It showed that we were developed and rich. But, this does not take away the fact that we are now a poor and underdeveloped nation. Just talking about history will not help us to get rid of poverty. We have to take inspiration from our ancestors.


Q: What is your stand on writers giving away their awards as a mark of protest against the killing of M M Kalburgi, the lynching of a Muslim man in Uttar Pradesh over suspected beef eating, and the rising intolerance being witnessed in the country?

My honest view on this is that whoever has committed the crime should get caught and they should be punished under the law of the land. But, we need to understand that India is a country of 1.25 billion people and we need to draw a conclusion based on data. I may never have enough confidence in our elite, politicians or media, but I have tremendous faith in the majority Indians of different faith. These majority Indians are deeply religious and deeply liberal and the country’s confidence is in them. I believe that there are extremists, but they are quite few.


Q: Do you think such actions in the name of religion will eventually cause people to move away from religion, at least the rationalists?

Around a year ago I wrote an article on India’s approach to religion. In the last 50 to 60 years the data shows that compared to other countries the religious violence in our country in proportion to our population is minuscule. The real violence is against the women of our country, whether we talk about suppression or female foeticide.


Q: Can you speak about your association with the Centre for Study of Mythology and Culture, Goa? How far do you think a centre like this will help in questioning our mythology rather than just celebrating and revering it?

One of the organisers met me at the Sanskrit Department of Mumbai University and as I love mythology I will be speaking about it during my lecture at the Centre for Study of Mythology and Culture, Goa. Speaking about questioning you can do both – revere and question at the same time. As lord Krishna said – use your mind to question.


(Centre for Study of Mythology and Culture, Goa is hosting a talk by Amish Tripathi on ‘Interpreting Ramayana’ on October 23 at 5.30 p.m. at Kala Academy, Panaji. It is open to all.)

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