7 Secrets of Vishnu - Fractal Mythology

There has always been something unconvincing about the mythological stories we heard in the laps of our elders. We were told that these stories were parables which taught us essential values, reliable maps devised by our ancestors to help us navigate through the journey of our lives. However, we never took them seriously, as our messy, complicated lives didn't fit with moral stories of good winning over the bad.

With his brilliant research and lucid writing, Devdutt Pattanaik, in his latest book on the 7 secrets of Vishnu, debunks our naive understanding of mythology. As he writes in an article elsewhere, mythology isn't prescriptive, but reflective, helping us shape our view of life. He further attributes it to "the poor english translations of Hindu Mythology in the 18th century" which reduced the beguiling beauty of these stories into monochrome stories of good triumphing over the evil.

As I began unraveling the secrets of Vishnu, I realized that Devdutt, with his insightful work is not just a mythologist, but a mathematician of the higher-order, showing us the complex patterns behind the rich symbols of our folklore.  As he begins the book, he sets out his objective to discover "explicit patterns" that are implicit in the stories, symbols and rituals".
In the year 1975, Polish-born mathematician Benoit Mandelbroit, coined the term fractal, to describe intricate design shapes, based on mathematical constructs, found in various creations of nature, right from clouds & mountains to ferns and cauliflowers. 

Mandelbroit famously wrote, "Clouds are not spheres, mountains are not cones, coastlines are not circles, and bark is not smooth, nor does lightning travel in a straight line ". Perhaps, the same could be said for Lord Vishnu and countless gods in the Indian pantheon, as we look closely, beyond the superficial reality of forms and actions, we discover hidden metaphysical principles constructed through various symbols.

Why is tulasi plant grown at courtyard of the house? Why are temple walls adorned with intimate conjugal images? Why is Brahma, the creator of life, never worshiped ?( save one rare shrine in southern India) ?

The author answers several interesting questions and presents us with a fractal understanding of Hindu Mythology, over a panoramic purview, across the subterranean world of asuras to the supraneous world of Devas, swathing across the world of animals, abiding by the jungle law and humans, abiding by Dharma, cultural construct of the society. 

As we delve deeper across the patterns, we discover more intricate patterns which leave us dazed and forces us to introspect the nature of human affairs. However, the book never descends to the physical realm until the end and we hover over the metaphysical realm, at a safe distance, enamored by its beauty. To bring the metaphor into perspective, the mathematical equation, with its precise and powerful language, may help us understand the truth. The patterns may be exquisitely beautiful. However, it only approximates the truth. 

Towards the end, the author compares the human condition with the elephant king Gajendra, whose feet is caught held by the crocodile, symbolizing the agony over attachment to the material things. "In misery, we thrash about like Gajendra trying to get rid of the crocodile", the author describes the state of human affairs. 

Perhaps, as my favorite poet Kabir points out often in his various beautiful songs, we would be liberated not just when we rid ourselves from the crocodile of material attachment, but also from Lord Vishnu and our spiritual attachment. 

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