Book review: Pashu

Ancient Hindu mythological stories believe that Brahma, the creator, had a son called Kashyapa, whose many wives gave birth to different types of animals or pashu. Devdutt Pattanaik is back! This time it’s a children’s book titled Pashu, which introduces children to the key role that animals played in human lives, tracing their relevance in the Puranas, Ramayana, Mahabharata as well as stories that are a part of oral tradition and folklore. He retells these animal tales, with over 75 detailed and illustrated anecdotes.

Pashu, Devdutt Pattanaik, Penguin India, Rs 299. Available at leading bookstores.

The book begins with how various animals were born. It is popularly believed that animals had a common father, Kashyapa, but different mothers. Timi gave birth to animals who swim, Vinata gave birth to animals who fly, Kadru gave birth to animals who crawl, Surabhi gave birth to animals with hooves, Sarama gave birth to animals with paws, and Surasa gave birth to animals who defy classification. The author also explores other theories like, the animals could have been born from the various asanas and poses that Shiva, the great yogi, practiced or in the memory of the various avatars that Vishnu took when he descended on earth.

Pattanaik doesn’t impose a point of view. He constantly challenges readers to question the actions of the characters and draw their own conclusions, always offering more than one point of view. For example, one of the stories in the title’s last section is about Krishna and Balaram who would defend their village from demons, sent in the form of various animals, by Krishna’s uncle Kamsa. In this story the author points out that since Krishna and Balaram are considered God’s incarnations on earth, he wonders why they killed animals.

He then goes on to give two possible explanations for the same. First, that it could be a way to tell man that when one creates a human dwelling, domestication of animals and killing of wild beasts will happen. One must not feel bad about it and not overdo it, at the same time. The second could be that these stories need to be taken symbolically.

Krishna and Balaram are killing our inner beasts that make us believe that might is right. The book is full of logical reasons to mythical tales and could be an engaging way to introduce kids or anyone who is uninitiated to the world of these fascinating creatures in Indian mythology.

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