Course on the impact of printing press in mythology

Updated: Feb 08, 2019, 08:47 IST | Snigdha Hasan

A course on mythology in popular culture traces the impact of the printing press on giving traditional symbols new meaning

Course on the impact of printing press in mythology
Amar Chitra Katha is known for its comic strip format based on mythological stories

A Cherubic baby Krishna on a Gripe Water print ad. A chromolithograph featuring Gandhi in a deity-like avatar. Images of Hindu gods and goddesses on matchboxes. When the printing press technology became widespread in India in the 19th century, mythological narratives found their way into popular culture in fascinating forms. Since the development coincided with India's freedom struggle, the traditional symbols were also used as vehicles to fuel the collective imagination of the nation.

This trajectory of the impact of the medium across three centuries is what artist and scholar Dr Vidya Kamat will give insights into during a five-day course, Picturing the Sacred: Mythological Narratives in Popular Culture, which commences on Monday.

Raja Ravi Varma's Simhika and Sairandhri
Raja Ravi Varma's Simhika and Sairandhri

"We know our myths through informal sources like hearing stories from our grandmothers or village elders. But it was only in the late 19th century that mythology was taken up as an academic study, thanks to the works of Max Mueller, Lévi-Strauss and Freud," informs Dr Kamat, who founded the Centre for Study of Mythology and Culture in Panaji, Goa.

She adds that with the advent of new media, content moved from the traditional to the political. At the same time, art — which thus far had been the domain of the royalty — gained a much wider reach.

Each day of the course will focus on a new topic. "The first session on Kalighat paintings, found in and around Calcutta, provides an entry point into the subject. While the paintings arrived before the printed media, the latter forced the artists to match up and do better, so as to be picked up by the pilgrims who came to Kalighat," she explains. The second lecture revolves around Raja Ravi Varma's art-making process, who shaped the mythic imagination of India through his paintings and their subsequent printed images.

Dr Vidya Kamat
Dr. Vidya Kamat

For a more contemporary approach, Dr Kamat will dedicate a session to the comic book series, Amar Chitra Katha, which took it upon itself to familiarise children with India's mythological heritage. "I will end the series with Hanuman and Superman," she says. "The idea is to draw out the similarities and dissimilarities between the Indian and American superheroes. And how, in the recent years, Hanuman has come to be imbued with Superman touches, too!"

From: February 11 to 15, 2 pm to 3.30 pm
At: Somaiya Centre for Lifelong Learning, Somaiya Bhavan, MG Road, Fort.
Call: 7045932204
Entry: Rs 1,500 (Rs 1,000 with valid student I-card)

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