Many people have commented that there are at least two nations in India: India and Bharat. The first looks Westwards for inspiration, the second is not heard mostly, at least in mainstream literature. Dr. Devdutt Pattanaik breaks the mould. A modern Indian, a medical doctor by profession (who turned to mythology and writing), he has brought a freshness of interpretation to Hindu icons.
Dr. Pattanaik comes from Orissa where the fine arts continue to blossom. You can see that special touch of his heritage in his drawings and painting of Hindu icons. I have been a collector of his beautifully illustrated books on Hindu icons for many years, and have been fascinated by his grasp of Hindu traditions.
The first chapter provides an introduction and the basic approach behind his interpretation. The second is a comparison between Hindu, and Western myths. The third and fourth deal with some of the key Hindu traditions. Each of the selected tradition is described briefly, and also analyzed and linked up with the larger whole.
Dr. Pattanaik also covers a large ground, taking material from main Puranas, as also the regional and the sthal (local) puranas. A large amount of the material is from Mahabharata. He also takes some material from the Vedas.
This book is much more analytical than his earlier works, which were more descriptive. In the book, he offers a visual framework, diagrams and illustrations, to help interpret our traditions. These are superb and I have been deeply enriched by these.
Hindu traditions have mostly been interpreted by Western scholars, and most Indian scholars writing in English have been influenced by this. As a result, these often appear baffling to practicing Hindus, who therefore mostly keep away from such works. Dr. Pattanaik helps us understand why this happens.
According to him, Western scholars try to interpret Hindu traditions from their own standpoint, which is squarely in the middle of Western culture, and sensibilities. As a result, even the best meaning among them, fail to elicit deeper meanings that would resonate with practicing Hindus. This perhaps could explain the recent controversy reflected in invading the sacred.
Dr. Pattanaik offers an interpretation which is at once modern (analytical) and traditional (reverent). This creates a unique blend, invaluable for modern Hindus.
This is medium sized book, paperback, with glue binding. The paper is non-reflective. The font is clear, though the ink is slightly faint. There are some color photographs - though somehow the colors have not come out as well as are usual with Inner Traditions books. There is also a brief index to the book.
He has also recently written another book called Myth = Mithya: A Handbook of Hindu Mythology, which takes the ideas presented in this book further.
All in all, a good, interesting book. Worth buying if you want a fresh, modern look at some of the oldest traditions in the world.