By Nidhi Raj Singh
His bestselling The Immortals of Meluha and its sequels opened floodgates for mythology-based narratives. Amish believes a classic is what conquers time, or kaaljeyi as he describes it. This former banker has authored the Shiva Trilogy, the Ram Chandra Series and a non-fiction, Immortal India.
What is so attractive about Indian mythology: its characters, plots or the fact that it can interpreted in so many ways?
Everything. And why just Indian mythology? Every ancient culture from across the world, Greek, Egyptian or Chinese have so much depth in them. What makes Indian mythology so special is the fact that it is the only surviving ancient culture. What also adds to the charm is that we still believe in it, unlike other cultures, which is what takes it forward.
Is Indian mythology being overdone? Will the intrigue factor die a slow death?
Never! Because it’s so much worth for. We, as a civilisation, are survivors. We have survived some of the most gruesome massacre and devastating attacks, right from Turks to Mongols and Mughals. And the gravest disaster we suffered was the destruction of the Nalanda University by Bakhtiyar Khilji. He burnt the Nalanda library and it is said that it burnt for a month. There is no way of knowing that how much knowledge did we loose? We survived this too. Indian mythology will survive too.
Do you think Indian mythology has a strong feminist narrative?
Certainly. One of the misfortunes of India is that our liberal class does not realise that our ancient culture is their biggest ally. It is essentially because they have not read anything about it. Many of them aren’t even aware that there are different versions of the Ramayana. If our ancient culture is a graduation course, then Mahabharata and Ramayana are just entry level. There are the Puranas, Upanishads, Vedas, Brahmanas, Aranyakas, and many liberal law books. If they are fighting for the cause of liberalism: rights of women and LGBT community or against the caste system, they should quote their own scriptures, rather than quoting from some American or British philosopher who anyway look down upon us. To give you an example, in western scriptures, the male god is always written with a capital ‘g’ and a female god is written with a small ‘g’. Only in our country, we had women prophets or rishikas. Much of Rig Veda is written by rishikas and there are documented debates between rishis and rishikas in Upanishads. Adi Shankaracharya, the most important figure to have shaped the Hindu religion, lived 1,300 years ago. One of his most famous debates was with Mahrishi Mandana Misra. And you know who judged that debate? Ubhaya Bharti, a rishika, placing her in an obvious higher position. We have women warriors, rulers, and scholars. The trouble is that we are not teaching our culture properly to our children.
What can modern India learn from mythology?
Mythology is actually a tool to learn philosophies. Of course, you can enjoy the story and the storytelling, but it was how philosophies can be taught. And philosophy is the art of learning how to live
Do you believe these gods existed?
Yes I do. Do I have a way to prove it? No. But, why would I prove it to anyone when I am not forcing it on them to believe in it? I like to call mythology either etihasa (history) or pauranic katha (ancient stories). I also believe in these stories and the fact that they were our ancestors, the knowledagble and powerful. I feel we should all try and be worthy of the great ancestry we have, the bloodline that we are a part of. My belief inspires me.
How much liberty have you taken as a writer while sketching the characters or piecing the missing links?
I am not the creator, I am only the channel. One should write with the humility of a witness, and not with the confidence of a creator. I do have my own interpretations. I have also adapted a multilinear narrative. It is very complicated to write, but I think readers like complicated. It’s more fun.