“One must distinguish between mythological fiction and mythology. Mythological fiction is very popular as it is fantasy rooted in familiar traditional tales. Mythology itself is about figuring out worldviews of cultures — how did people think in a culture”- Devdutt Pattanaik.
India is a country with a tremendously rich culture of historical storytelling, sharing values and ideas of the past, presenting symbols of myth, legend and folklore. Throughout generations, writers have vastly based their mysterious stories around the Hindu Epics like The Mahabharata and The Ramayana, and have always succeeded in luring the readers toward their literature.
Mythological fiction is the imagination and the reincarnation of traditional and cultural tales that often present values and norms shared by the ancestors and the society in general, and intend to transmit and transform the coming generations toward the art of learning. It always helps us remind of who we are, where we come from and takes up a massive part of the heritage of the society.
But why does mythological fiction always plays big in India?
For that, we have to dig deeper and find out the underlying reasons that make it happen. The rise of the mythological fiction is directly proportional to the amount of enticing tales and stories that the writers have on offer from India’s colossal history, helping them base their narratives and set their plots around the cultural backgrounds.
The retelling of famous epics has always been popular in regional languages. Irawati Karve’s Yuganta – End Of An Epoch is a fascinating analysis of the Mahabharata’s characters, which was initially written in Marathi way back in the 1970s and later translated into English. In the 1990s, Tara Books published Mahabharata – A Child’s View by Samhita Arni in English. A 12-year-old’s view of the epic was some groundbreaking idea that would later go on to lay the foundation of Indian fantasy stories being manifested through the mythological tales.
Mythological fiction in India has always had immense potential because of the characters of the historical tales. There have been certain conventional beliefs about various characters of Hindu epics, such as Ravana being accustomed to the evil, Hanuman as the savior and Bhima partly responsible for directing Duryodhana’s actions. However, as the new generations come along and modern-day readers and writers dwell into the past, the roots of these beliefs are given a new perspective and direction as they find out unique potential of a character and what may have led them to carry out fortunate or unfortunate events in the past. This is based on how different generations perceive things differently, opening doors to new questions about our history and unlocking new ideas and stories.
Writers like Ashok Banker and Devdutt Pattanaik are limelight of mythological fiction in India largely thanks to their ability to connect with the young, westernised generation of Indian readers. Their books are commodious gifts for these readers to now engross with their cultural background through a modern language and entertaining plot.
Writers like Amish Tripathi and Ashwin Sanghi sky-rocketed the genre to different heights by basing their stories on popular characters. The Shiva Trilogy used the persona of Shiva and his background to set the plot whereas Sanghi resorted to consolidated characters like Chanakya and Krishna to tell contemporary stories. These attempts from such wonderful writers showcased the multi-facets of the genre and highlighted the ability to modify characters amidst new stories and still make it resourceful for the readers.
With The Ramayana and The Mahabharata being male-dominated epics, the modern-day rise of the feminism has also paved way for woman-centric stories in mythological fiction of India. Chitra Divakaruni Banerjee, in her latest book The Palace of Illusions, brings to forefront Draupadi’s invigorating persona and Sita’s pertinacious nature. Devdutt Pattanaik in Sita: An Illustrated Retelling of the Ramayana throws light upon peripheral characters that are often in the background such as Sita’s sister and Karna’s wife. He molded them into important figures playing massive roles in the execution of the story.
This shows how mythological fiction isn’t just about what has already happened in the past, but it keeps on evolving with present scenarios and the ability of modern-day writers to connect and transcend the potential of a story or a character. However, the readership always stands tall as the protagonist in the story of mythological fiction. It is up to individuals who decide what genre do they like, it may be the ancient scriptures that often comes under non-fiction or fictional narratives where the actual truth might be questionable.
Devdutt Pattanaik shared his thoughts in an interview with Indian Express: “To each his own. Readers choose books and so they choose the woods, and the trees. Let us not infantilize the readership. Ultimately, we have to decide what works for us.”
Mythological fiction also plays a vital role in setting foundation for a lot of religions that are practiced. These myths are stories narrate to us the battles between good and evil. Every religion has stories like that, both ancient and modern. The protagonist, or hero, has to go through struggles against the antagonist, or villain. During that journey, that hero learns important values and morals that are important and necessary to defeat that villain.
Times have changed in India, the introduction of modernisation and western flamboyance saw a different bringing up of children as compared to the past. The development of cities, employment opportunities for both men and women, and working parents meant less time for social and cultural interaction for the children of the contemporary generations.
However, mythological fiction with enthusiastic tales and robust characters, allows parents to expose their children to books at an early age. These books instill great moral values of our culture and general principles like discipline and honesty, and help us learn valuable lessons about our history, our rulers, our warriors, and their sacrifices. As children, we are ecstatic listening and watching such perennial stories. That’s what mythological storytelling does, it releases the burden of knowing, instead bestows a great learning with pure joy and entertainment It isn’t just about inculcating morals in youth anymore, but also about educating them and using the resources that are made available with the growth of technology and modernisation.
Mythological fiction’s growth and constant success in India is also because of the fact that with so many different languages being spoken in India, publishers who earlier used to be constraint to the English language are now willing to make translated versions of the books available to the desired readers and the target audience. It has helped in expanding the writers’ audience and has also given a humongous boost to the sales of the books.
Vani Kaushal, author of The Recession Groom, spills some beans about Indian publishers that also play a massive role in the marketing and continuous growth of mythological fiction in India: “Indian writers are told by publishers to base their stories around the time of the Ramayana and the Mahabharata, or, at least, have some references to these epics by way of plot, characters and names. Why? One answer is that bookshops prefer to display titles that have a perennial cachet–and anything relating to the Indian epics fits into that category, which in turn is because such novels often make readers out of non-readers.”
Therefore, mythological fiction in India is a strong pillar which is held firmly by the roots of our history, but also the art of learning, and modern-day needs of cultural values as well as enjoyment. Human needs are eternal which ultimately leads to proclaim the importance of mythology in India. Something so big can only be built by million little things, and that is how the base of mythological fiction in India is unshakeable.
Global publishing companies are also acknowledging the potential of Indian writers and readers, as well as the tastes of individuals. This is made evident by Jeffrey Archer’s promotional visit to India and James Patterson’s collaboration with Ashwin Sanghi.
So why mythological fiction does always play big in India? Well Ashok Banker, the author of Prince of Ayodhya has tried to express it in some words- “What the genre does is clothe age-old classics in contemporary garb. While this keeps the storytelling tradition alive, these stories evolve as well, in a new avatar, as per the needs of its audience.”
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