Devdutt Pattanaik on Hope

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Devdutt Pattanaik is India’s leading mythologist and a writer with quite a few bestsellers under his belt. What he is best known for is his unique outlook as he dissects Indian mythology and its relevance to us today. We talk to him about hopelessness and the stories around it, which is what his latest book is about – Hope: Wisdom to Survive in A Hopeless World. 

  1. What is hope to you?

For me, hope is the assurance that there are opportunities in the future and we have the strength to exploit these opportunities. When we feel that in the future there will be opportunities and we will not have the strength to explore and exploit these opportunities we become hopeless. 

  1. Why do you think we need ancient myths to look for hope? How do they apply to the modern world?

So, the difference between ancient times and modern times is primarily technology. In ancient times, they did not have the steam engine electricity, electronics today we have access to all of this, and digital technology and money. But at an emotional level, humans have not changed in the last 100,000 years. Ancient man was jealous, hateful, greedy, miserable, hopeful and hopeless. And so it is today. Our stories capture these emotional truths, these realities and hence they are as relevant today as they were before. 

  1. What is one lesson that COVID taught you?

The one lesson COVID has taught me is that nature does not care for human nature. It does not see humans. It doesn’t see people humans consider special to be special. The rich and the powerful have to also wear masks. They are not immune to it, depending on their wallet size or the height of the throne. 

  1. What is your favourite myth of all time?

Every myth is wonderful depending on the context. I personally love The Ramayana because I feel most people have a very primitive understanding of the subject and I love exploring the sophisticated layers of this ancient epic. For COVID time, my favorite myth was Noah’s Ark because I felt we all were like Noah’s Ark, on a ship waiting for the flood to recede so that we could step out of our houses and live life once again. 

  1. Could you tell us about one myth about hope from the book that you want everyone to know?

I think the one myth I want people to know is the myth of Sunahshepa which comes in the Rig Veda, and it talks about a boy in a very hopeless situation, reminding us that hopelessness is a very ancient idea. 

  1. How do you think a concept as modern as mental health reflects in ancient myths like in Mahabharata, Ramayana or any other – how does the concept make sense in context of a time when it wasn’t even acknowledged?

Mental health is certainly not a modern concept. Humans have been talking about mental health from ancient times, simply because, you know, the problem with young, modern times is that they feel they have discovered everything. We heard of mental health in the Old Testament of the Bible, we hear of people going into depression, people going, having anxiety attacks, people losing hope and faith in the Old Testament of the Bible, in Greek myths, as well as in Hindu traditions. Remember, it is a sense of despair and desolation that makes Siddhartha Gautama explore the answer to life and suffering. In other words, he was dealing with mental distress and mental health. The Mahabharata tells the story of Naladamayanti, the story of depression that follows misfortune.

When you read all these scriptures, they’re really talking about mental health constantly. Even the Hindu concept of Satchidananda revolves around mental health.

Let stories from our past help you deal with your present and look to a better future – read Hope: Wisdom to Survive in A Hopeless World here. 



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