As far as divine opening sessions go, things couldn’t have started better. In conversation with fellow mythologist and author of The Pregnant King and 7 Secrets of Hindu Calendar Art Devdutt Pattanaik, Roberto Calasso brought good cheer for worshippers and unbelievers alike.
The session, ‘Literature and the Gods’, taken from Calasso’s bestselling 2001 book of essays of the same name, invoked one single question: ‘What is God?’ “Who and if are for people, not for gods,” said Calasso emphatically. Pattanaik believes otherwise. “God is an idea which has been given a form,” he countered.
Calasso and India go back a long way. The 66-year-old writer is a regular visitor to this country, his novel Ka being hailed as one of the best introductions to Hindu mythology. Calasso is what he’s supposed to be: brimming with the myth-(re)teller’s admiration for the Upanishads and the Vedic traditions.
However, Calasso is “frustrated”. He finds the lack of essential texts on Vedic culture being available a scandal. For him these texts are special. “It’s a shock of recognition how men could think in a way [that’s] so different than what we see and believe in today… In India, there’s a strong tendency to discover the sources of this place. The access, however, is difficult.”
The Milan writer firmly believes in the concept of manas — the mind (“the god before the gods”) — an integral part of the Vedic texts. He feels that it lies at the core of our understanding of myths too, irrespective of whether it’s from modern India or ancient Greece.