Mythomania in India

Source from which I quote: The Economist 11/26/16

In 2001, India’s literacy rate was 65%, 10 years later it rose to 74% and is projected to be 90% by 2020. A large part of what is felt to fuel the increase in literacy reader’s love for Hindu Myths (with the Mahabharata and the Ramayana being two main epics).

India has two main competing political parties: the centrist Indian National Congress (INC) and the right-wing Indian Nationalist Party (BPJ – Bharatiya Janata Party). The BPJ has had huge influence in these burgeoning years of literacy and many feel that the embracing of Hindu myths is intentional as a tool to strengthen anti-Muslim sentiment (Hindu culture nationalist) and cast India as a Hindu country. The party has won the Prime Minister seat in 2014 with Narendra Modi.

Christoph Senft, a specialist in modern Indian literature who teaches at Pune University in Maharashtra state, argues that a “search for internal homogeneity” has become the flipside of India’s rapid push towards the global marketplace. “Mythological texts confirm the Hindu nationalists’ wish to tell India’s history as a history of Hinduism.”

Fictionalized traditional lore can prove very lucrative: Rowland’s Wizardry (of Britain’s Merlin’s Era), Game of Thrones (Martin’s fantasy with dragons too), Lord of the Rings and now Hindu mythology contained in the Ramayana and the Mahabharata.

The Ramayana and Mahabharata have long nourished Indian popular culture, whether through village storytelling, puppet-shows, television serials or Bollywood movies. Indian novelists writing in English used to be known abroad purely as a source of strenuous literary works; now they regularly produce gaudy blockbusters that marry these ancient tales with the latest trends in genre fiction.

The man credited with inaugurating this mythological revival is Ashok Banker, once better known as a literary novelist but who turned to mythological stories in 2003 with an eight-volume Ramayana series that began with “Prince of Ayodhya”. Mr Banker is now writing a screenplay for Disney India, a two-part adaptation of a subsequent series, drawn from the Mahabharata.

Fortunately not all writers mine the epics for narrow Hindu-centered nationalistic fervour — Devdutt Pattanaik, Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni and Askok Banker are examples of some of such more ecumenical authors.

Using religious sentiments to strengthen political goals is far from new. But these liberal Hindu authors use the exact same sentiments in to broaden the human heart. With these two possible uses, it is important that India maintain freedom of the press to allow keep diversity alive.

When it comes to freedom of the press, the USA is not as high as some Americans may think standing at #41 (compromised for National Security) but India lies at #133.  Interestingly, Northern European countries are 1. Finland 2. Netherlands 3. Norway and 4. Denmark.  See this Reporters Without Borders.

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