Devdutt Pattanaik. The moment you hear that name, you either groan about how it’s probably another myth like Mahabharata that you grew up on, or get really excited about what controversial Indian Myth is now being portrayed in its truest form.
‘Shikhandi and Other Tales They Don’t Tell You’ delves into the idea of queerness: how it is not a modern western concept, but ingrained in Hindu mythology. The collection of epics detailing the past of Hindu myths and its contrast with other religions such as Buddhism, Jainism, Christianity, Greek etc begins with a poignant poem celebrating Queerness and what it is like to be Queer.
Divided into two parts, the first part brings to the reader’s light a few facts about Hinduism; its origin and evolution. It sheds light on how in Hindu mythology, Patriarchy or the idea that man is superior to woman was invented, while the idea of Feminism or equality between men and women was discovered .
The book then proceeds to talk about how queerness is often mentioned in Hindu mythology: how there were men who became women, women who became men, men who create children without women, women who create children without men, creatures who don’t belong to either male or female gender etc. Pattanaik further talks of how queer stories are not restricted to only Hindu mythology, but different cultures referenced to queerness, often in a positive manner.
Devdutt Pattanaik then tries to give reasons as to why homosexuality is deemed ‘uncomfortable’ in Indian society, tracing this notions’ roots to the idea of celibacy, or even monastic orders like Buddhism or yogis who preached resistance over indulgence.
After giving these details about the history of queerness related to religion and mythology as a whole, the second part of the book finally starts the journey of telling us about the various myths in India that stand in a stark contrast to the country’s current stance on queerness. Starting from a more or less chronological order, Pattanik introduces us to the book’s namesake, Shikhandi, and how she became a man to satisfy her wife. In an elaborate, yet very easy to understand way, Pattanaik turns rather boring myths that we’ve heard before, into enchanting tales with new details that we usually aren’t told about. How Vishnu became a woman to entrance demons; how Urvashi was born of no woman; about Narada who forgot that he was a man and many more tales.
Pattanaik’s unique narration and inquisitive take on Indian mythology turns the driest of myths into ones filled with spark and glamour. In a time where Indian society is slowly going back to its pre enlightened state of intolerance based on religion, Devdutt Pattanaik’s ‘Shikandhi and Other Tales They Don’t Tell You’ challenges these notions and brings about a stark contrast the ignorance and rigidity we see in Indian society today.
Playful and touching –and sometimes disturbing- the stories in ‘Shikhandi and Other Tales They Don’t Tell You’ reveal the unique Indian sense of queerness and is definitely a must read for anyone who wishes to learn about Indian Mythology in an easy to understand way.