Come September, it’s time for festivities in India in quick succession. Often this is a great time to start on the journey of mythological story telling and revelling in our culture. Raised on a staple of my grand father’s vivid tales of Ramayan and Mahabharat and then voraciously flipping through Amar Chitra Kathas, I couln’t wait to start enjoying this fascinating world with my daughter.
Like any Shudh desi parent, I started out on Lord Ganesh Story to my then three year old. But little did I Know how ill prepared I was then. I repeated the same wondrous version that I had heard from my dear grandfather..Of Parvati creating her brave son and Shiva having to cut his head off from behind to vanquish him and then replacing it with the elephant head to create the God that we all love. But my little one was not as accepting as I was . “But amma, if Shiva was a God how can he not know it was his own son?” “How can he lose his temper and cut off someone’s head?” “How can so many people fight one boy, thats not fair!”… Quickly citing that it was way past bed time, I had to tuck her in, feeling lost and dismayed and on uncertain ground.
My review of all my vast repertoire of tales left me feeling “Why didn’t I ask these questions?” I knew there was immense wisdom and morals that were waiting to be explored. But the stories were full of killing and gore ,of polygamy and punishment. I needed to explore and go deeper before I decided to “teach” my daughter something with “ Indian roots”. As Glinda the Good Witch says in The Wizard of Oz, “It’s always best to start at the beginning”. So thats where my new story began. Why was Mythology there in the first place? This time we discovered together…. a journey that has been enriching for me as much as for her.
Explaining the basic premise : Good vs Evil
“What happens when something happens and you don’t know why it happens?”.. “I ask Amma” (Today she says Google it…but I digress).. That’s exactly what happened long ago, when there was no science to explain the facts. So something superior to man was required. Enter Gods with super powers who created this world with all the unexplainable. The forces of nature were powers to reckon with that could destroy their lives, they were feared. So they became the Devas. But there were also bad people. And there was no police or law then. How to make people behave properly? Then came the Demons. The evil in them hurt others and were crushed by God.
Creating Heros and Role Models:
“So does this mean that God is just a story?” she asks … still persistant. No, No.. I still clutched to my strong beliefs..then restrained myself. I had often promised myself not to impose my views on her. I slowly explained to her how these Gods could very well be just very courageous humans with great will power and mental strength to withstand pain and hardship, yet not be defeated. So much so, that possibly people thought them to have superpowers. I believe in God , I tell her but sometimes, we believe in things to give us hope and courage. “Just like I believe fairies exist ..”she says. Phew!
The story of Dhruva becoming the Pole star led to more fascinating discoveries. While, thankfully, it fit in my framework of explaining why all the other stars moved and just this one star did not.. we realised we in India were not the only ones with a myth about it. In Norse mythology the Pole Star is the jewel on the end of the spike which the gods stuck through the universe and round which the sky revolves. We found similarities between Zeuss the king of Greek Gods and Indra the Lord of Devas with the Lightning bolt as their chosen weapon. We concluded people must have greatly feared the lighting that killed instantly. In this new perspective, it was easy for her to see how all the great books taught the same, since they were all meant to do the same, just in different places with different contexts.
Questioning and Developing Tolerance
Sometimes , religion and mythology surfaced in other books. While reading Swami and Friends by R.K. Narayan , she came across this ..
Ebenezer’s face became purple with rage as he thought of Sri Krishna…’Did our Jesus go about stealing butter like that arch-scoundrel Krishna? Did our Jesus practice dark tricks on those around him?’…Swaminathan put to him another question, ‘If he was a god, why did he eat flesh and fish and drink wine?’ As a brahmin boy, it was inconceivable to him that a god should be non-vegetarian.’
It turned out to be a good discussion on understanding differences and being accepting of them, simply because they came from a different set of beliefs. Surprisingly enough, she neatly twisted it into “see mama, thats why I love Draculara even though you hate the Monster High dolls” ( for those not in to recent 8-10 year old girl fads.. this is a series of dolls created as sons/daughters of various monsters)
Thus as you can see this is an ongoing journey. Moral and values cannot be just told in a age-old story. To be absorbed as they were meant to be we have to find instances in everyday life , compare them to our mythological models and unravel what applies and what may not. In today’s world, where the girl is threatened, they may be a need for defining what Sita meant? If Sita could stop Ravan with just a blade of grass why did she need Ram to rescue her? Was Ram unjust in Agnipariksha? Is our society today sitting silent like the courtiers who witnessed Draupadi being disrobed? Was there a moral battle in the minds of the other Pandavas who sat quietly to respect Yudisthir instead on defending her?
And oh, by the way, I did find an palatable answer to explain the Ganesha story here. What Parvati creates and gives life to is the Ego… She tells the Ego see that no one disturbs me while I am not feeling good… don’t let anyone come in! Lord Shiva is the protector of Parvati. He does what any protector would do… Kills it.. When you have had your ego trampled upon, you are going to feel even more hurt and bewildered, which is where Parvati flares up. But Lord Shiva replaces the Ego’s head with an powerful and knowlegeble elephant head and all is well. But it will wait.. until the perfect time to narrate the story comes up…may be when she tells me “Just leave me Alone”