Reading the writings from other religions can help both atheists and theists get a wider perspective on religious issues. But not just reading other religious texts, but reading and listening to those believers talk about their faiths. Hinduism, for instance, was part of the cause of my downfall from Christianity.
Image if the Bible had stories like these:
- a hero who was also a cross dresser
- a woman who is raised as a man, and married off to another woman, but then changes into a man to satisfy her husband
- a god who is depicted as the “third gender” both male and female
Well, these stories are scattered throughout Hindu religious literature and Devdutt Pattanaik puts many of them together in one book and retells them in an easy to understand style with fun illustrations. His dedication page states:
“To all those here, there, and in between”.
I’ve read Pattanaik’s retelling of the Mahabharata and love his writing. Unfortunately, this new book (“Shikhandi: and other tales they don’t tell you”) is not available in the USA yet. But I thought readers may find it interesting to hear how this liberal Hindu is using his Hinduism to fight suppressive narrow views of sexuality in his country.
Below are some of Devutt’s interesting answers to a Bangalor Mirror interview about his new book, with my comments below.
As you have mentioned, people chose to retell stories of mythology by omitting queer references. Was it difficult to find such stories?
Many of these stories are quite familiar to people. I have just retold them such that one pays attention to the underlying comfort with queer elements. You don’t find such queer elements in other major religions, certainly not in Christianity, Islam or Judaism. A God who is comfortable cross-dressing and indulges in it to express his deep love for his devotees — that is only in Hinduism.
The Judeo-Christian scriptures certainly does not have as much queer elements, but there are some. Consider the relationships between King David and Jonathan; Ruth and Naomi; Daniel and Ashpenaz. (see religioustolerance.org).
Have you been worried about the reactions to your book?
We indulge intolerance too much. I am perfectly fine if someone wants to oppose my book and ban it because it bothers his or her notion of how Indian narrative history should be. Banning the book does not destroy the idea. Vedic wisdom has never relied on books for its survival, anyway. The stories gave me great joy and wisdom and I feel everyone should have access to this joy and wisdom.
Well, I wait to see what happens to Devdutt now that he has spoken up in support of the queer section of society.
People think of Hinduism as weird — and it is (see my post “Your God is Wierd!” ). But maybe that is good — or at least Devdutt is telling us that it is good:
We want simplicity, certainty and convenience in life, neat boxes and fixed rules — Hinduism refuses to indulge this childish need. And the gods chuckle at human exasperation.
Sure, many Hindus are jingoistic, nationalistic, anti-gay, superstitious, anti-women and more. But just as liberal, progressive Christians try fight these things in their cultures, Devdutt is using good Hinduism to combat bad Hinduism. I wish him well.