The ‘myth’ of mythology

“I believe that imagination is stronger than knowledge.
That myth is more potent than history.
I believe that dreams are more powerful than facts.
That hope always triumphs over experience.
That laughter is the only cure for grief.
And I believe that love is stronger than death.”
– Robert Fulghum

To everyone, who doesn’t love history (it’s a shame, though), here’s a fun fact. Our world is made upon myths, stories that are too grand to believe sometimes. I grew up with mythology, literally. It was an unspoken rule to listen to stories every night when my Nana (maternal grandfather) came home from work. From Ram & Krishna to Buddha and Prophet, I heard all and then some more. For everyone who loves stories, myths are alluring beyond this world. And aren’t the finest tales we know, the best-known stories, the most familiar narratives we recite, myths. The myth of Hogwarts, of a place in a galaxy far far away, of a door to Narnia, of dragons, unicorns, fairies, angels and demons, and whatnot.

But why are myths important? Are they important enough to read a thousand words by an unknown writer and waste maybe fifteen minutes? Yes, they are. Because as it turns out, myths and history have a habit of exchanging places. After a certain point of time has passed, some myths become history; some historical facts become myths. We all know the story of how Newton discovered gravitational force (not gravity, it was always there) after an apple fell on his head. Right? But is that true? No one can confirm. This is how a myth, becomes an accepted universal fact. A story which is told time and again in different languages and different places. There was another man who went to the same place as Newton. His name was S. Ramanujan. Scientists today, study his theories and formulae to study black holes. Pretty damn cool, right? Here’s another fun fact. He claimed that a goddess used to come in his dreams and tell him all these formulae. That’s why he himself couldn’t prove most of his theories in his lifetime. This is a documented fact. Twenty years from now, it’ll become a myth. Where no one would believe it and Google it to clarify. I’m neither trying to prove I’m a raconteur (which I am, tbh) nor showing how the best of scientists have believed in God(s) (I would have been an atheist if not for my Nana).

Today, Aleppo is a place which is in ruins. Most of us know its story. It’s a fact as to how a bustling, happening city became a war zone. Give it enough time and Aleppo would become a myth, a tragedy, a sad story. Why? Because in due time, there’d be nothing to show that there stood a great, bustling city full of people. All that would be left is ruins. And future generations would call Aleppo a myth just like Atlantis. It’s a saying that ‘History is written by victors‘. Even today, most of us don’t know which side of the story to believe upon. As time and again has been proved, you definitely can’t rely on the state. Ipso facto, no one might believe that Aleppo was part of history. Such things really happened. People died. And not enough people cared to stop them from dying.

There is a phrase which is painted on the walls of my university, “In the dark times”. I really like that phrase. Apart from being too true about our surroundings it also is a symbol of awareness. Understanding the history, understanding myth or the stories we know is important because otherwise they get obscured, or worse, appropriated and altered. Ram was never a hero, Ramayana never a quest. It was the story of a man. A virtuous, righteous and extraordinary man, but a man nevertheless. He had his faults, like all of us and he made mistakes like all of us. It was such a powerful tale that it managed to cross across space and time and be heard again and again, in different versions, different dialects. But today Ram stands as a god who can’t be challenged, can’t be critiqued. Who stands on a pedestal so high that even pointing a finger is a crime. We are at such a time that, we’ve made another similar hero. He leads the Indian nation, as of now. Questioning him is a cardinal sin. His every action or decision worshiped and held in reverence. How did we reach here I ask myself sometimes? You should too.

One of my idols (not a stone one, mind you) is a famous Indian economist. He won the Nobel prize for his work. He in his wonderful book ‘The argumentative Indian’ narrates a personal story where he disagrees with the logic of Krishna (the demigod) and tells his teacher the same. His teacher replies that one is free to disagree, but one must disagree with respect. And just like him, I disagree with my idol (because Geeta strikes a chord maybe) but I do so with respect. To disagree is not to disrespect. We have lost this simple truth along the way. People lose friendships, divides are created in families over one’s perspective or opinion. It would be worthwhile to recount the tale (using myth again) of the four blind men who were sent to discover the elephant. They all were right, and they all were wrong. Aristotle once said, “It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it.”

Devdutt Patnaik, the famous author, is a good place to start if one were to look for myths. His retelling of myths, like others of his field, makes more sense. But who is to say that what is history and what’s not. We just discovered that the Harappan civilization is 8000 years old, older than any other civilization. (friendly reminder, I’m a history major and it’s my job to bore people with such facts) So maybe, one day we might be able to prove that Ram and Krishna and Hercules are more than protagonists of their stories, that they are part of history. But their acts turned them worthy enough to be heroes and to be remembered millennia after they lived. It should be in one’s nature to be curious and doubt everything and ask for proof, even from people in authority. Especially from people in authority. Because it is our heritage and will be our legacy. The art of asking questions dates back to the beginning of writing itself. So don’t shy away (despite CBSE compelling you otherwise for 12 long years). To prove my point I quote the Nasadiya Sukta from the Rigveda (arguably the world’s most ancient sacred text).

Who knows, then, where everything arose?
Who can say how Creation happened?
The gods themselves came after Creation.

Then He, whether He created all that is or whether
He did not;
He who looks upon everything from the highest heaven-
He alone knows.Or maybe He too does not.