Likening Donald Trump to Bacchus, the impetuous and unpredictable Greek god of wine, and explaining why “even Hindu gods need a break,” mythologist Devdutt Pattanaik had his audience engaged and entertained during his session on day two of the ongoing Tata Literature Live! festival.
In a session titled ‘Olympus: An Indian Retelling of Greek Myths’, Pattanaik elaborated on why he chose to write a book on Greek mythology after 30 books on Indian myth.
“In the annual cycle, there’s chaumas or the rainy reason, when the gods sleep. So while the Hindu gods were sleeping, the Greek gods awakened within me,” he joked.
On a more serious note, he drew parallels between the two ancient cultures.
Speaking on queer history and sexuality, for instance, he said: “Greek mythology has stories about men falling in love with boys, and also tales of male rape. You don’t find this in Indian myths. Instead, you have gender transformation — those who are born men but later identify as women, and vice versa.”
Underlining differences between Greek and Indian mythology, he cautioned against comparing myths and legends and deeming one superior to the other.
“Whenever I praise one tradition, someone asks ‘Does that mean ours isn’t great?’ That’s a sign of insecurity,” Pattanaik said. “We have to know about other people’s cultures, just as we expect them to know about our culture.”
The loudest round of applause, however, was reserved for his answer to an audience member’s question: “Do you think it’s easier to write about a ‘redundant religion’, such as the one in ancient Greece, or a living religion, like Hinduism?”
“When I criticise Zeus, I’m not afraid of somebody burning me alive,” Pattanaik replied. “There’s no troll brigade waiting to attack me when I talk about Dionysius and Apollo.”