“Olympus: An Indian Retelling of Greek Myths” by Devdutt Pattanaik

The well-known Indian writer and mythologist, Dr Devdutt Pattanaik has recently authored a book entitled “Olympus: An Indian Retelling of Greek Myths,” in which he explores the ancient Greek Mythology from an Indian perspective of view. The book has been published by Penguin India.

The author searches to find common roots between Greek and Hindu mythology in Indo-European stories and in the exchange of ideas that took place in the Indo-Greek kingdoms that followed the arrival of Alexander the Great in India and Greek emissaries travelled to the kingdoms of Mathura and Magadha.

Some of the commonalities pointed out in the book are:

    • Olympus is the home of the Greek gods, much like Amravati of the Hindu devas.
      Zeus, leader of Olympians, wields a thunderbolt like Indra and rides an eagle like Vishnu.
    • The feats of the Greek hero Heracles, reminded many of Krishna, as did his name, ‘Hari-kula-esha’ or lord of the Hari clan. The striking similarity between the image of Lord Krishna fighting the many headed serpent Kaliya can be found reflected in the image of Heracles fighting the Hydra, a serpent with many heads.
    • The description of Dionysus as Lord of ecstasy, fertility and destruction can be compared to that of the Hindu God Shiva, who  is also associated with intoxication and madness that can both create and destroy.
    • The Greek epic of a husband sailing across the sea to bring his wife, Helen, back from Troy seems strikingly similar to the story of Ram rescuing Sita from Lanka.
    • The story of Icarus and Daedalus can find parallels in the description of Jatayu and Sampati as narrated in the Ramayana.
    • The concepts of Hermaphroditus and Ardhanarishvara as well as of Eros and Kama occur in both mythologies in a similar manner.

Pattanaik also points out some major differences, like the absence of the concept of Karma and the dominance of drama in the Greek mythology which is very different from the happy endings in Indian mythological stories. However, the fact that the great epic of Ramayana ended on a tragic note, makes one wonder if its author Valmiki got an inspiration from the Greek drama.

Listen to Devdutt Pattanaik speaking for his book below: