Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Book Review – 7 Secrets of Shiva

Warning :) Long post ahead ! I just couldn't make it short. When you write from the heart, words flow!

I had heard about Devdutt Pattanaik from my best friend who is my guide for reading material J I was looking forward to reading some of his works when I came across the Blog Adda Book Review program. I registered and waited for something interesting to come up and voila … 7 Secrets of Shiva comes up next and I grab the opportunity!

Well, all fine till this point. I receive the book and unfortunately have to travel for work as a result the reading of the book gets delayed by almost a phenomenal 20 days. I come back and the first thing I do is pick this book up.

2 surprises even before I begin reading the book.

First one is the size of the book, the book is sized unconventionally (at least I haven't read a book in this size for a loooooong time). One may not realize but the size of the book changes things. You hold the book in your hand and it feels different. This changes the entire reading experience too.

The next surprise came up as soon as I opened the book. PICTURES. Remember your childhood when you would preferably pick up books with pictures (I 'fortunately' was not really that type and I picked up a Nandan or a Chandamama with equal or even higher zeal than a chacha Choudhury or a Tinkle; since less pictures meant more reading content).

7 Secrets of Shiva has pictures on ALL left hand side pages. Yes. That's right. HALF the book is pictures. It has been a very loooooong time since I read a book with so many pictures (barring comics of course).

Well, with these two pleasant surprises in tow, I started reading the book. As you might have read in many a places and many a reviews, the book is in 7 chapters / parts, each talking about the secrets of Shiva.

It is a 200 page book (with half the pages in pictures, so practically 100 pages of reading) and I thought reading this would be a pretty quick thing. I was to be proved wrong pretty soon. After every few pages, one has to take a pause. Stop and think about what one has just read. The mental machinery starts moving and all that you have heard, read, believed all your life is brought into focus and you now have a 'better' understanding of things as they are explained and not just left for you to accept without questioning.

In the first chapter, which unravels the secret of Shiva's form as a 'Shiva Linga', the narrative talks about the 'Pillar of Fire' incident where Shiva tells Vishnu, "You are humble enough to accept limitations. You are not intimidated by the uncertainty or afraid of ignorance. You are in the process of becoming God."

Think about it. Don't we humans possess similar characteristics? Aren't we ourselves in the process of becoming Gods … (although we have probably just started J). While reading this, I started thinking about the short book 'God's Debris' by Scott Adams where he proposes that we humans are God's Debris … the result of God destroying himself in a cosmic explosion (which we consider as Big Bang) and we are in the process of re-assembly … forming God gradually from the billions and billions of bits and pieces.

We also often hear people say "God is within You" … Are these then different ways of expressing the same concept?

Besides the concepts of form and factor, this chapter and the whole book in general, is all about Symbolism. The Shiva Linga, a form representing the human phallus, is the symbol used to depict Shiva. And it is not the only one. The author points out that Hindu Mythology is full of symbolisms (which I am sure is a common thread in the various Devdutt Pattanaik authored books).

Yet another interesting fact which is brought out is that although there is a human form representation of Shiva (ash covered, animal skin clad, living in the mountains), this form is never worshipped. It is the Linga 'form' of Shiva that is worshipped.

Each chapter looks at Shiva and the 'concept' of his being a god through various symbols and representations - Lingeshwara, Bhairava, Shankara, Bholenath, Ganesha, Murugan, Nataraja. The concepts engulf Shiva's form, nature, dance, his interaction with Vishnu and Brahma, significance of his wife Parvati/Shakti and his sons Ganesh and Murugan … Shiva is sum total of all of them and not just an individual. They complete him, complement him and represent him.

Reading this book is a contrast to those like Scott Adams "God's Debris" (a head spinner) … God's Debris challenges stuff you have never imagined challenging and shakes up your beliefs and understand. Devdutt's book 'explains' symbolism in mythology and helps you understand your beliefs … things which you had accepted blindly without questioning. This book is a good help to the scientifically inclined who would sometimes feel that our mythology is probably nothing but fantastic / fantasy stories which are pretty much unbelievable and don't carry much sense. (Yes Yes .. there are some youths around who indeed think like that). Devdutt's book would help them a lot.

We grow up learning about our Gods from our parents and then our teachers. Nowadays, of course there are plenty of mythological TV serials to give the kids a pretty biased and often glamorous perception of our Gods.

These books explain our beliefs and help us in our understanding of our gods (more specifically, the concept of Gods). Some 'learned people' might fear that in doing so, the books try to de-glorify Gods resulting in the modern youth questioning Godliness and pitting Gods against science and scientific proofs.

I would say, by explaining the concepts surrounding Gods, these books give the modern youth the precise understanding they need. It presents God in a way that is more acceptable to them. The books attempt to explain the 'representation' of God and not God themselves. Once you read this book, you don't go about questioning why Shiva is depicted as an individual who lives in the mountains, has 3 eyes, considered the destroyer, has a son with an elephant head who rides a mouse, represented as a Linga and so on. Youth begins to see these as symbols which are put together in an attempt to explain and represent the vas t concept of Shiva, the God.

We begin to appreciate the nuances of the concept of God (as defined by our religion) and we begin to appreciate them even more; b'cos now it is not just blind faith but a deeper understanding of the entire concept of Godliness.

If you are comfortable to put logic and religion/gods in the same thought process; leave Devdutt Pattanaik alone. He does not write for you.

And yes. Remember, i had mentioned pictures being a surprise in the book. They are important as well. A lot is explained through various pictures of Shiva's representations.

Disclaimer & FYI – This review is a part of the Book Reviews Program  at  BlogAdda . Participate now to get free books!

Incidentally, I saw the promos of (yet another) TV serial based on Shiva. God knows what they will do to the young impressionable minds. I have not been convinced by the recent mythological TV serials. The Ramayan (original DD version) and Mahabharat (original DD version) were pretty good. There was one on Shiva by Dhiraj Kumar which was pretty decent. After that, things sort of went downhill.


  1. I read this one and 7 secrets of vishnu too ... interesting read ...

    PS: the font size in the book is too good for quick read!!! :)

  2. Hey... read Jaya (by same author) ... awesome read!

  3. Totally agree on the font size part. Helps a lot in reading (especially since I read while i travel around)

    I am going to read Myth=Mithya next ... will take up Vishnu secrets after that.

    I am kind of sticking to one book per month from a particular author nahin to over-dose ho jata hain (except for the Sherlock Holmes and 3 Investogators series, which have 50+ stories each)