Indian mythology is a storehouse of captivating stories and vibrant characters. It is filled up with a wide spectrum of life lessons. Rooted in ancient civilisations and nurtured over millennia, Indian mythology weaves together an intricate tapestry of beliefs, traditions and cultural heritage.
Every memory of childhood summer vacations is filled up with stories told to us (my brother and me) by our grandparents. We would sit in a trance as they recounted the stories, making the characters larger than life, fighting the demons with unbelievable courage, or facing other forms of dark obstacles with equal passion. We learnt about important values like family, trust, honesty, discipline, charity, devotion, dedication, and much more.
The Legacy of Indian Mythology
The depth and richness of Indian mythology can be traced back to ancient scriptures like the Vedas, Upanishads and Puranas. Epics like the Ramayana and Mahabharata have become integral to every Indian child. These texts are full of stories of gods and goddesses, demons and heroes, sages and devotees, representing the diverse aspects of the human psyche and the cosmic order.
The gods like Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva are central to the scriptures as they personify creation, preservation and destruction respectively. Goddesses like Lakshmi, Saraswati and Durga symbolise the divine feminine in the form of wealth, knowledge and power.
Each of the stories from the mythology carries profound philosophical, ethical and spiritual teachings. They explore themes of righteousness, duty, devotion and the eternal struggle between good and evil. Indian mythology also embraces the concept of reincarnation, karma and the cyclical nature of life and death. The timeless wisdom transcends all boundaries and resonates with people across cultures.
It was inevitable that as kids we grew up with tales from the many texts. And the best source for such stories was the Amar Chitra Katha comics. I’m still to come across someone who hasn’t read these as a child. Even now, it’s the best way to introduce children to the mythological world as the pages recreate the magic with colourful illustrations.
Here are some of my favourite books based on Indian mythology. See if you’ve read them all and share the names of other unmissable books that I’ve missed.
Ramayana and Mahabharata by C Rajagopalachari
This is an old publication and I’ve inherited the original copies from my grandfather. One of my prized possessions. It’s a beautifully written book where each story is about a page and a half in length and each character is introduced, related, connected and explained. For a novice, it is well laid out and that’s what got me hooked.
This series set the ball rolling for rekindling immense interest in the mythological genre. The trilogy consists of The Immortals of Meluha, the Secret of the Nagas and the Oath of the Vayuputras. A fantastic series using mythology as its foundation, yet explaining it in a very contemporary setting, using relatable science instead of unexplainable superpowers.
The next series by Amish is based on the Ramayana and each of the four books in this series is about Ram – Scion of Ikshvaku, Sita – Warrior of Mithila, Raavan – Enemy of Aryavarta and War of Lanka. We’ve read Ramayana enough number of times to know it yet the whole change in the perspective was what made this a unique experience. The books humanised the characters, making them more relatable, and showing us their vulnerabilities and weakness.
This is Mahabharata from Panchaali’s point of view. Interesting and refreshing. It tells us about Panchaali from her birth to her lonely early years to her eventual marriage to the Pandavas. Panchaali is the epitome of strength and grace, and the book follows her journey of how her hurt and shame mould her in the future years. Absolutely engrossing.
Before you start reading the book, remember to keep a pen and paper ready with you. There’s so much information that sometimes it becomes a little difficult trying to keep track of the connections. But honestly, a must-read if you really want to understand and know about the Puranas. Puranas form the foundation for Indian mythologies. They offer universal age-old wisdom, relevant through the ages. Chronically arranged, the 100 stories create a kind of linear narrative starting from the Satya Yuga to the Kali Yuga.
Another retelling of the epic of a strong female character. The Forest of Enchantments is the story of Sita during her captivity in Lanka. Sita is portrayed as a confident, independent and highly enlightened person. As the story unfolds in the forests, the title is suitable and weaves the story within it.
This is the story of Ravana, one who is the evil king who kidnaps Sita in Ramayana. We know the story from this perspective. But what if the truth is something else? This book is from Ravana’s side, his story about him and his people. This narrative is from the vanquished’s point of view, not the victor’s. Beautifully written, challenging the conventional conceptions depicted in Indian mythologies. Must read.
This two-books series includes the Roll of Dice and Rise of Kali. Another masterpiece from Anand Neelkantan. It’s Mahabharata presented from Duryodhana‘s perspective, the young prince of the Kaurava clan. Often depicted as the ambitious, evil and manipulative upstart. But was it how it was or was there more to it? The author delves deeper into the pages of the epic and unfolds layers of the untold. Enjoy reading as the drama unfurls.
Another author who has brought Indian mythologies from the dusty bookshelves to our drawing rooms, creating insightful and engaging titles. Both in India as well as the world over, The Gita is undoubtedly the most widely read book. By giving it a contemporary feel, the author makes it more relatable. It’s thought-provoking as it helps us to connect with the essence of the book.
Sita has always been the central character in Ramayana, yet often overlooked or portrayed as a meek and docile person. In this book, the author narrates the Ramayana as he delves deeper into her personality, her strengths, her beliefs, revealing a stronger and more intelligent woman. Aspects of her life, often ignored in regular narrations of the mythological tales have been discussed. Like her childhood or her origins or her relationships with her family. Interesting.
This is the retelling of the Mahabharata but includes many local folklores and tales associated with the epic which often go untold. The original name for Mahabharata was Jaya. Pattanaik has infused many interesting details like folklore, worship of Draupadi in temples in Tamil Nadu and much more to make it an interesting read for all age groups.
The women in Indian mythology were no damsels but strong characters who often went against the accepted norms to fight for what was right. They fought battles, killed demons, vanquished evil and protected their devotees. And written in Sudha Murty’s easy writing style, it flows naturally. A must-read for our young readers to give them suitable role models while introducing them to the rich Indian mythological treasures.
There are still many more books. Some I’ve read, some I haven’t. If you’ve some recommendations, don’t forget to share.