Two newspaper pieces (Guyana Times, 11/14/2020) – one, the Indian High Commissioner, Dr KJ Srinivasa’s interview on Diwali, and the other, IAC’s Diwali message – caught my attention. In both the interview and the message, the words mythology and mythological have been used to characterise things Hindu and Indian.
Dr KJ Srinivasa used the word mythology two times with reference to “Hindu mythology” and the other “Indian mythology.” In the first instance, he is reported to have said, “in Hindu mythology, Diwali also signifies the path from ignorance to knowledge with the very lighting of the diya – which brings light to the dark.” Secondly, Dr Srinivasa is quoted as saying, “In Indian mythology, the celebration of Diwali originates on the day that Lord Rama returns from Lanka after defeating Ravana.”
Depending on how one uses the word, it could be extremely problematic and oftentimes derogatory which is exactly how it is used by “Indian copycat post-modernists and the Indian anti-Hindu brigade in their resistance to the inclusion of the Ramayana and Mahabharata in the high school curriculum and university programmes. We know that before archaeology unearthed rock-solid evidence of the existence of a temple in Ayodhya to mark the birthplace of Lord Rama, the whole thing was dismissed as mythology by the same band of scholars and activists.
It is also known that many of the 19th and 20th-century founders of what is known as Indology were German scholars with strong Protestant affiliation, as Vishwa Adluri and Joydeep Bagchee have shown in their masterpiece, The Nay Science: A History of German Indology (2014). A number of them would later on go on to identify with and support Hitler’s Nazism. While these great scholars had no problem of accepting everything biblical as “history”, Hinduism was essentially the stuff of myth and mythology.
The Oxford English Reference Dictionary defines the word myth as: (1) A traditional narrative usually involving supernatural or imaginary persons and often embodying popular ideas on natural and social phenomena etc. (2) Such narratives collectively. (3) A widely held but false notion. (4) a fictitious person, thing or idea. (5) An allegory.
In popular usage, myths and mythologies often refer to things and stories that have no basis in truth, things and persons that are fictional versus factual or historical, though from a sheer objective point of view, we see how history and fact versus myth and mythology are conveniently used for self and other respectively. The scholars mentioned above, while speaking about the historicity of Jesus in a stable, would have no qualms referring to Krishna’s birth in a prison as myth or mythology.
While I can’t see how the “path from ignorance to knowledge” can be called mythology however one may choose to define the word, it will be interesting to know exactly in what sense does the Indian High Commissioner use the word in his interview. Is the return of Rama from Lanka Indian mythology as he suggests or Indian history?
Now the IAC. It seems to regurgitate the same message year after year stating, “Diwali is associated with several mythological stories, one of them dealing with the belief of Hindus that on the day of Diwali, Lord Rama returned to Ayodhya after defeating Ravana, King of Lanka, and that the people of Ayodhya celebrated his return by lighting thousands of diyas.”
Two points need to be examined here. One, the organisation states categorically as a matter of fact that Diwali is associated with mythological stories. The second point has to do with Lord Rama’s return from Lanka. It is not stated with the same categorical certainty as the association of Diwali with mythological stories. It is merely what Hindus believe. It is mythological.
I thought it would be constructive to see how the IAC presents its messages with respect to other religions. Its 2019 Easter message, for example, was supremely disdainful and disrespectful of the Christian understanding of the event, as the IAC sought to present an Islamic perspective on Jesus and on the death and resurrection. Why members of the Christian community in Guyana were not up in arms against this travesty is beyond me.
But in its Eid-ul-Adha 2020 message, one sees a completely and radically different approach. With respect to Hinduism and Christianity, the IAC states what it thinks Hindus and Christians believe. Hindus believe Lord Rama returned to Ayodhya after defeating Ravana. Christians believe that Jesus was crucified on the cross. But with respect to Eid–ul–Adha instead of saying what Muslims believe it to be, the IAC states as a universal fact that it, “is a time for believers to learn the value of self-denial by making a sacrifice of the things they love, to Almighty God.”
Similarly, there is nothing mythological about Ibrahim’s great act of submission. It too is presented as a universal fact. How come Diwali is associated with mythological stories, but the readiness of Ibrahim to sacrifice his son is not? What does the IAC mean by mythological? Will it consider the stories of a flying horse or birds raining down stones, history or mythology?