literature and myth

India’s best-known mythologist explains what Lakshmi means for Liberals and for Bhakts

The author of ‘The Success Sutra: An Indian Approach to Wealth’ draws the parallels between myths and economics.

The battle between “AdarshLiberals” and “AdarshBhakts” continues on Twitter, much like the mythic battle between devas and asuras. Or is it asuras and devas? For each one believes that they are morally upright and loves India more than the other. What is overlooked is that in the Puranas, devas and asuras are divided not on grounds of morality but on grounds of their relationship to wealth.

Devas live in Swarga, paradise, and live rich Page3 lives, in luxury, drinking Soma, watching apsaras dance and gandharvas sing. Or they are busy fighting the asuras, defending their wealth from these barbarians at the gates. Never mind that the asuras are their half brothers, sons of Brahma. Nobody told the devas it is good to share. But if the devas share their wealth, will they still be devas? Will they still be adored, envied desired and invoked in yagnas?

Modern parallels

Can we see the relationship between devas and asuras as the relationship between haves and have-nots? Devas are rich and live fabulous lives. So by Left-wing standards, they are certified evil oppressors. Bhakts protest violently at the suggestion that devas are being equated with Page3.

AdarshLiberals will valorise asuras as the have-nots, the disenfranchised, the oppressed, the lowly, the unprivileged, denied the Kamadhenu, the Kalpataru, the Chintamani, that was churned by both, devas and asuras, from the ocean of milk. Did not the enchantress Mohini trick the asuras and ensure all that wonderful treasure was claimed by the devas?

Yet this simplistic understanding defies the complex nature of the Puranas, where Lakshmi, goddess of wealth, is also called, in her many forms, daughter of the asuras, Paulomi (Puloman, referring to the asura-king) as well as wife of the devas, Indrani. The asuras did not value the daughter until Indra snatched her away and made her his wife. Now the asuras want the daughter back. They, who never valued her while she was with them, feel tricked and cheated once she is away. A common theme in capitalism, which values the intelligence and innovation of the capitalist to create value from the land of the farmer, and labour of the worker or the land.

Hidden in the pages of the Puranas are ideas that do resonate proto-materialistic philosophies.

The real worker

But Indra, rich and glorious, in Vedic times, is not the god who is worshipped in India today. There are no temples to his name. There are temples to Vishnu only. Why? Because Indra does nothing to attract Lakshmi. He treats her like an entitled husband, and remembers her only when she disappears or is snatched away by someone else. He does nothing to make himself worthy of her, unlike Vishnu who is continuously participating in the affairs of the world to make himself worthy of the goddess of wealth.

India today is trapped between the narrative of devas and asuras. We either want to be devas, or envy the devas. And the devas sees the rest of the world as asuras. No one wants to be Vishnu, work towards generating wealth, not for his sake, but for the sake of the other, fully aware of inadequacies of the human condition and the wonderful meaning that wealth brings into the lives of humans, meaning that makes them cling to wealth than give it away generously, CSR rules notwithstanding.

Devdutt Pattanaik is an author, mythologist and leadership consultant. He has written over thirty bestselling books, published several hundred articles and given numerous talks and presentations on Indian mythology, culture, business and management.

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