De-myth-ify: Kurmavatara (Part Three)

Let’s talk about Hindu mythology and the story of the second of Vishnu’s 10 incarnations or Dasavatara, the Kurma or the tortoise, today. This is the last part of a three-part series on the Kurmavatara. If you haven’t read the previous parts, do go and read Part One and Part Two before you continue here.

Now that the story is done, let’s talk about it.

This was quite an elegant series, was it not? Even if I do say so myself. It is definitely a much more complex and richer story than that of the first avatar, Matsya. This myth is also a very classic tale and a solid jumping point into Hindu mythology. 

One of these typical tropes is that Hindu myths always tend to have ‘morals’ associated with them quite unlike the more entertainment-oriented Greek myths. This is simply because of the reasons the myths were written; Greek myths were performed for an audience while Hindu myths were typically used to impart a moral education across younger generations. This myth is no exception. There is the ever-so prevalent and oft-repeated, “Good always triumphs over evil”, the very Dumbledore-esque, “Help will always be given to those who ask for it”, the downfalls of greed contrasted with the virtues of patience and hard work and many many more lessons that I have probably missed.

This avatar in itself is also a level up from the first one. This tends to also be a theme with Vishnu’s avatars, with each Avatar becoming more powerful, with a more complicated story and more human. I think it is quite underrated though, as far as the Dasavatara go, overshadowed by the more pompous later avatars. It is quite undramatic, kind of anticlimactic and just simply, focused on the need of the hour. That is not to say that the Kurma is unimportant; there would be no Samudra Manthan without it, just simply appreciating the no-frills attitude it had.

The myth though is quite the opposite. You have way too many contenders for both the protagonist and antagonist positions, issues at every turn and all these new people turning up to resolve those issues constantly. It makes for good storytelling but is definitely not quite as unproblematic as the Avatar whose story we are telling.

The fact of the matter is that while the Kurma itself can be thought of as a tiny part of the ocean churning, the god behind it,a.k.a Vishnu was the orchestrator of the Samudra Manthan. It was him that gave the gods the idea in the first place, him who told them to involve the Asuras, him who took the form of the Kurma to make it possible and him who ensured that the Amrit was given to the Devas, finally. This is very classic Vishnu, the Preserver God, who is often the brains behind many such myths. I also have to mention that he did get his wife out of this, as the Goddess of wealth, Lakshmi, who came out of the ocean during the churning, chose him as her husband, so you know, good for him.

Another important point to make here is that there is no western counterpart for this myth, quite unlike the Matsya, which was quite biblical from the get-go. Things like the Ocean of Milk and using a mountain and a snake as churning equipment are very quintessentially a part of Indian mythology and can not be found anywhere else. It is these totally different and unique stories that set it apart from most western as well as quite a few eastern mythologies and it is this aspect that makes up, for me, the charm of it all.

THIS POST’S QUESTION: As this is the first ‘classic’ Hindu myth we have discussed, what do you think of it and the tropes we have talked about? Comment below with what you think about it, I’d love to hear from you!

De-myth-ify: Kurmavatara (Part Two)

Let’s talk about Hindu mythology and the story of the second of Vishnu’s 10 incarnations or Dasavatara, the Kurma or the tortoise, today. This is part two of a three-part series on the Kurmavatara.

For the previous post in this series, click here.

I last left you on a note of suspense, with a comment about how the Samudra Manthan’s problems were far from over. With Kurma supporting Mount Mandara on his back and Vasuki acting as the rope, the Devas and Asuras were able to commence the churning of the Ocean of Milk. This, of course, led to the next series of events.

During the long and strenuous churning process, many things were released from the ocean before the Elixir of Immortality or Amrit. These included supernatural animals like the wish-granting cow Kamadhenu, valuables like Kaustubha, the most divine jewel, nymphs or Apsaras, and the goddess Lakshmi. Most of these were equally divided between the Devas and the Asuras. However, not all that came out of the ocean was good(Dun dun dun).

The Samudra Manthan also brought forth Halahala, a deadly poison or Vish that threatened to cease life in all the three worlds,i.e. Swarga (The skies, home of the Devas), Dharti (The Earth, where regular folk lived) and Patala (The underworld, home of the Asuras) The Devas and Asuras were being suffocated and weakened by the poisonous fumes and beseeched Shiva, considered the destroyer and protector in Hindu Mythology to come to their aid.

Shiva, upon hearing these cries for help, came and took the Halahala in his mouth to protect life and save all three worlds. Instead of swallowing the poison, he held it in his throat, giving it a bluish hue and him the moniker of “Neelakantha”, the blue-throated one. ( Can we just talk about the heroics of it all? Shiva, in a surprise move, takes over from Kurma as the hero of the tale. What a twist.)

Thus, after everyone was saved by Shiva, the churning started again and soon, the fruits of the Devas’ and Asuras’ labour was upon them. Dhanvantari, the God of Medicine emerged with the Elixir of Immortality or Amrit in his hands. (Huzzah!) As soon as he emerged, the Asuras took control of the Amrit and began to run away. Do you remember how Vishnu had told the Devas to not be angry if the Asuras tried to steal anything forcefully? That’s right, it’s time for that part of the story.

The Devas turned to Vishnu, for once, actually remembering his words. (This is like, super rare for them, you guys. I don’t think you understand just how mature this is for them) Vishnu took the form of the beautiful enchantress Mohini, who then went up to the Asuras and convinced them to let her distribute the Amrit among them. With her wily charms, she managed to distract the Asuras while she distributed all of the Amrit among the Devas. (What a comeback. Such a power move. Vishnu is coming back for the hero spot, y’all)

Two Asuras did not fall for Mohini’s charms and disguised themselves as Devas and snuck in to get the Amrit. However, the Sun and Moon gods ended up identifying them as imposters and thus, Vishnu, taking his true form, cut off their heads with his Sudarshan Chakra before the Amrit crossed their throats. The heads of these two Asuras, named Rahu and Ketu are believed to still be flying around the universe and once in a while, they swallow the moon and the sun, as revenge. That’s why eclipses happen, according to Hindu mythology, anyway. (I find this a surprisingly neat explanation for what is a complex scientific phenomenon, although maybe slightly too gore)

Obviously, the jig was up. The Asuras realised that Vishnu had tricked them. They picked up arms and came to fight for what was promised to them. However, the Devas had now consumed Amrit and were at full potential and thus, defeated the Asuras and drove them away. So, the Samudra Manthan came to a violent end and goodness was restored. The curse of Durvasa lifted and the Devas brought peace and harmony back to the realms. All was well (Unless you were an Asura in which case, oh well).

To be continued.

THIS POST’S QUESTION: Do you think the end of the Samudra Manthan was truly a ‘happy’ one? Or is it a tragedy, much like the Greek myths we have dissected? Comment below with what you think about it, I’d love to hear from you!

 

De-myth-ify: Kurmavatara (Part One)

Let’s talk about Hindu mythology and the story of the second of Vishnu’s 10 incarnations or Dasavatara, the Kurma or the tortoise, today. This is part one of a three-part series on the Kurmavatara.

For the previous series of posts on the first of the Dasavatara, Matsya or the fish, click here.

The story of the Kurmavatara is usually considered a chapter of the bigger, way more important myth of the Samudra Manthan,i.e. the churning of the ocean. I, however, personally believe that there is no Samudra Manthan without the Kurma; that these stories are too tangled to be taken apart. The story of the Kurmavatara is the story of the Samudra Manthan. People may not agree, but how I choose to interpret this story remains my choice and one of the more lovely things about mythology and stories in general. So, without further ado, let us begin.

Last time we left Vishnu, the preserver and protector of the universe, he had just saved all of Earth and its inhabitants.(So you know,just a regular day of being Vishnu) This story is set thousands of years later and is a story that involves no mortals directly. It is one of the many Hindu myths that deal with the regular power struggle between the Devas, or the gods and the Asuras or the titans/demons.

Devas and Asuras, though cousins, were at war with each other all the time. (If you have siblings you get it, right?) One time, during one of these wars, the notoriously ruthless sage Durvasa(Also known as the grump of Hindu mythology) visited Indra, the god of the skies and king of the gods and offered him a flower garland. ( If you think that Indra sounds like Zeus, you are right. Indra is the Zeus of Hindu mythology) Indra, who had a bit of an ego problem, carelessly threw the garland to his elephant, angering the short-tempered sage. Durvasa cursed all the gods which ended up leading to them all losing their powers. ( Eesh, that’s extreme. If I was another god I’d be SO mad at Indra)

This meant that the Devas were now on the verge of defeat to the Asuras and were soon largely depleted. As a last resort, they approached Lord Vishnu and pleaded with him for help. He advised them to obtain Amrit, or the Elixir of Immortality by churning the Ocean of Milk to regain their powers. He told them to use Mount Mandara as the churning stick and the king of the serpents, Vasuki(Remember him from the previous myth?) as the rope.

The gods were unable to lift Mount Mandara without their powers and Vishnu suggested they ask the Asuras for help in exchange of a portion of the Amrit. He also warned them to not take anything except the Amrit that comes out of the ocean during the churning, or feel angry if the Asuras forcibly take those things. He also calmed their concerns about the Asuras stealing the Amrit at the end of the churning and promised them that that would not happen.

Thus, the Devas and Asuras set Mount Mandara in the middle of the ocean, wrapped the snake god Vasuki around it and each held onto one end of his body and began to pull. They soon realised, however, that the mountain was sinking into the soft ocean floor and again beseeched to Vishnu for help. This is where the main part of our story happens.

Vishnu took the form of a giant tortoise, or a Kurma and supported Mount Mandara on his broad back while the Devas and Asuras churned the ocean, until the Amrit was successfully obtained. ( Heroic,sure but also, mildly anticlimactic,don’t you think?) This, of course, is the second of the ten incarnations of Lord Vishnu and the titular character of our story. Thus, with the Kurma present, the churning of the ocean began in full swing and all problems were solved. Or were they?

To be continued.

THIS POST’S QUESTION: This story seems pretty grey on who the bad guy is. Who do you think is the “villain” here: the Asuras,Durvasa or even Indra? Comment below with what you think about it,I’d love to hear from you!

 

 

Lost in the Stars

Let’s talk about my love affair with space today.

I have always been fascinated by space and all things celestial. I mean, who isn’t? Who can stop themselves from staring at the beauty of a sky full of stars or a pale hanging full moon? Who can avoid having their mind be absolutely blown when they first learn about the nine(Now, eight) planets of various colours and sizes? When you hear that we are going around the sun and not the other way around? Unbelievable! Life as you know it is completely changed. Well, it is, if you’re me.

It started simply enough. When I was very little, I could not get over the magical phenomenon of stars. How those tiny twinkling lights came in the sky every night and disappeared before I woke up. How the moon was a different shape every day. How some stars were brighter than the others. How sometimes I would catch the moon in the day and feel triumphant, just like I felt when I raced the sun and moon from my car window. (And never won!)

Indian culture values star a lot. Hindus have their own branch of astrology and when a baby is born, a map of all the planet positions at the time of their birth is used to predict the kind of person they will become and the life they will have. Thus, my first celestial education was cultural, courtesy of my parents. I learnt about the myth of the pole star, called the Dhruva Tara, named after a little boy named Dhruva. I also learnt about the Saptarishi, the constellation named for the 7 great sages of the Vedic period and many many more fascinating stories.

Then, came to primary school, where I truly and firmly realized that I adored all things to do with space. I loved to hear about the planets, the galaxies, the suns, the moons and the comets. I bought encyclopedia on encyclopedia and read them cover to cover and more still. I thought, I never could know enough about space, and I still stand by that. I even bought a children’s telescope and spent so much time futilely tinkering away at it. (I lived in a metropolitan city and it was a pretty weak telescope, so there was very little hope.) By the time I was 11, I had decided that my life’s goal was going to space and decided that I just had to become an astronaut.

I eventually came back to earth and began to calm down my PDA with space. I expressed my love for it by reading science fiction, more encyclopedias (I was a big encyclopedia kid), watching for stars and constellations whenever I could and most importantly letting people I was comfortable with know every space fact I could remember. As I’m sure they will unhappily vouch, the latter is a personality trait that has still not changed.

As an adult growing up in the heart of urbanity, I hardly get to see the stars in the sky. I adore going on vacations to the mountains or the hinterlands and getting to watch a sky full of stars. There is nothing quite like it. On one particular vacation, we were lucky enough to be staying at a resort that had a high-resolution telescope at hand, and you bet your heart I had a gala time with it. I saw galaxies and the divots of the moon and whatnot, it was the highlight of my vacation, and that is saying a lot because this vacation involved lots of strawberries and I adore those.

I still love finding constellations, saying the random hello to Venus or Mars and if I’m lucky, Jupiter and most importantly, tracking important celestial events and trying my best to catch them, despite the suffocation of living in a concrete jungle. Recently, the big one I failed to see was the comet Neo Wise. I left my house for the first time since the pandemic in hopes to catch it, so you understand that I really tried. On a regular day, there are meteor showers that I rue missing and stay up at night to hopefully catch.

I long for a future where I can travel to catch these wondrous phenomena, where I can visit observatories and get up close and personal with stars, moons, planets, comets, solar systems and galaxies. As I bow out, I wish upon all the stars to always be just as mesmerized by a sky full of stars as I am today and I was at 3 years old. Here’s to hoping that the magic never ever dies!

THIS POST’S QUESTION: Are you obsessed with space as well? Is it like my obsession or completely different? Comment below with what you think about it,I’d love to hear from you!

I’ve got ‘COVID FOMO’. Have you?

Let’s talk about COVID-19 induced FOMO today.

FOMO or the Fear of Missing Out is defined as social anxiety stemmed from the belief that others might be having fun while you are not present. It is usually attributed to social media, and in better, less stressful times has to do with wanting to live a life as happening as everyone else’s seems.

In the context of the COVID-19 pandemic though, what I am talking about is very different but is still, per se, fear of missing out. Take University for example. I am in the final year of my undergraduate degree, which is fully online, as of now. This unprecedented circumstance has brought with itself a myriad of fears and anxieties that all sit and chitchat under the “FOMO” umbrella.

Half the time, I am convinced there is a class or an assignment that I forgot or am missing out on. I also feel very out of the loop with things that I take for granted, like knowing about how the placement season is going, when events are scheduled or even just gossip you can’t help but overhear like who is friends/not friends with who, who is going to whose party, you know, very pointless things that I used to usually scoff at. This anxiety of just missing out on the most mundane idiosyncrasies of my regular life has been a hard adjustment that 6 months hence, I am yet to fully adapt to.

I don’t, however, think, it’s just an issue those who are “Back to (online) School/College” are facing. I can imagine that it probably extends to those who are working from home as well. Maybe they are afraid of missing out on deadlines, meetings or just regular water-cooler talk. Maybe it isn’t such a widespread issue, feel free to correct me, I swear, I won’t mind.

You always hear, “Man is a social animal”, but nothing quite drives the idea home-like difficult times like these. Our innate need to have connections is so strong and so fundamental, that take them away and we feel unsettled and try to reach out to even those who we haven’t spoken to in many years. (Yes, here’s looking at you, having family reunions or childhood friend catch-ups on Zoom all of a sudden, I love it, keep ’em going.)

For me personally, as someone who is going through placements in the middle of a pandemic and will most probably be graduating in one too, this fear also extends to my future. All my future plans have been thrown for a lurch, and I’m living suspended in uncertainty. I have anxieties about how I might be missing on options or paths because of the current situation and how this pandemic might end up being why I miss out on a future I wanted and have worked towards.

I understand quite well that for me, this is not an earth-shattering problem. I am privileged enough to come out at the other end of this just fine and I fully acknowledge that. It is just that I am sitting at the cusp of growing up, of being independent, of building the life of my dreams, ready to spread my wings and soar, and the sky that seemed so clear before is now foggy and ridden with obstacles.

I am a dreamer, to a fault. I had and still continue to have, against hope, so many dreams and ambitions for what I want to do, where I want to go. With each passing day spent watching the Coronavirus case count rise, those dreams seem to go further away from me and it becomes hard to not feel afraid that I would never be able to achieve any of them.

As depressing as this has been, I am also an unflinching optimist at my very core. (Verrrrry deep inside.) I always believe that at the end of the day, I will be okay. Things will be okay. I will be happy. And it is with this belief I forge ahead, in the face of my FOMO, which is still very present but I am getting better at handling with each passing day. I don’t expect it to be gone but I do hope that we can come to a peacefully coexistent negotiation, mostly for my sake. Wish me luck.

THIS POST’S QUESTION: Have you faced or are facing ‘COVID FOMO’?How are you dealing with it? Comment below with what you think about it,I’d love to hear from you!

Visiting World Wonders: The Rhine Falls

Let’s talk about the Rhine Falls today.

For the previous post in the series, click here.

Hey everyone! Today’s world wonder is a dreamy place straight out of your imagination; what you would think of if I asked you to picture a quaint town from a fairy tale. This natural wonder is none other than the largest, most powerful waterfall in Europe and one of the oldest waterfalls in the world, the Rheinfall or as we know it, the Rhine Falls.

The Rhine Falls is located on the High Rhine, next to the town of Schaffhausen, in Northern Switzerland. It is very ancient, much more than most if not all the wonders we have discussed here. The falls were formed in the last Ice Age, approximately 14,000 to 17,000 years ago. The river has shifted its course over the years but the waterfall has stayed strong with most of its volume attributed to snow-melt in the upper ranges. I visited the Rhine Falls in the summer of 2017 and as my first foray into the country of Switzerland, which I had built up in my head so much, it made quite the impact.

We were driving from The Black Forest(Which I actually have written about,to read my post about it, click here ) in Germany to Zurich in Switzerland, where we were staying for the night.The plan was to stop at the Rhine Falls for a gala lunch before we went our way. As we crossed borders, the scenery change albeit subtly. From the dark forests and high hills of the Schwarzwald mountain range, we were descending down towards flatter terrain. However, nothing convinced me that I am in Switzerland, land of snow, of castles and fairy tales, like the first time I saw the Rhine falls looking out my window. It looked like something out of a painting, a brilliant blue waterfall with a bridge going through it and a castle on its right.

The Rhine Falls is not very tall, I’ll give you that, but it more than makes up for it with just how wide it is, not to mention how absolutely stunning. It is without a doubt, the most beautiful waterfall I have ever seen and I have seen quite a few. Although there were viewing platforms on the river bank, we decided to take a boat up the Rhine, to a rock in the middle of the waterfall. (We are quite the adventurists!) The boat ride was great because it got me to see the waterfall up close and personal and it is, in my opinion, the best way to see the falls.

We went to the falls in the peak of the tourist season, so the rock was very crowded and staying on it became more of a daredevil task than we were expecting. I did manage to take a few pictures, despite being jostled around and holding on to my camera for dear life. It was worth it for the view, which was extraordinary and was like standing in the middle of the waterfall. The whole area around the waterfall also contributes to the imaginative aspect of it all. With the Wörth Castle on the hill next to it, a train crossing the bridge on the waterfall (I can only imagine how beautiful the view must be from it), the architecture of the buildings on the banks and the town of Schaffhausen, it was all,just like stepping into an artist’s imagination.

We then took our lunch, within view of the Rhine falls, so in my book, the best lunch we took all vacation. After that, we bid adieu to the gorgeous waterfall, which for me, had been such a surprise. I hadn’t expected it to be such a highlight of my vacation, but it was. Words fall short to explain what it felt like, to be in front of such beauty and natural grandeur: that aquamarine blue water, the rainbows the falls made with the sunlight, the greenery and the beautiful Medieval architecture all around. I hope the pictures do it some justice as it was the best possible introduction to Switzerland for me, and I hope even more, that I get to go back to this beautiful, magical place again.

THIS POSTS’S QUESTION: Have you ever been to the Rhine Falls? What was your experience like? Comment below with what you think about it,I’d love to hear from you!

Why Were We Obsessed With Dystopias in the 2010s?

Let’s talk about the wave of dystopian fiction in the 2010s today.

“Dystopia /dɪsˈtəʊpɪə/
An imagined state or society in which there is great suffering or injustice, typically one that is totalitarian or post-apocalyptic.”

When I was a teenager, which is basically, the majority of the 2010s, I and everyone around me was obsessed with consuming books, movies and tv shows set in dystopias. Think Panem from The Hunger Games, the post-World War 3 Illéa in the Selection, the alternate universe ‘Chicago’ in Divergent, the post solar flare world of The Maze Runner, or the setting of countless Zombie movies. What was with that? Why was everyone in the 2010s into reading about a world that was ending? Why was every girl I know having a zombie apocalypse phase? Why were we, as a generation so interested in consuming fiction set in a world in chaos?

Cut to 2020, where we have pretty much been living in the plot of a poorly written dystopia ourselves, and it has not been half as fun or exciting or as high stakes as the movies or the books made it seem. That was how I started thinking about this particular interest of mine in the first place and how my genre of interest as a teenager was Dystopia or Young Adult, which also indirectly meant dystopia in the 2010s. It wasn’t even just me. It was a hugely successful trope; hence the mass production in it, right? That explains the wide variety in it. But, the question still remains: why would we ever buy into all this apocalyptic tragedy, pain and suffering?

The_Dystopia

Some of it definitely had to do with the “escape” factor associated with reading or even watching movies. Most people, myself included, enjoying consuming fiction that is set in a different world altogether so that you can escape into it. This is the entire allure of the fantasy genre, and I might even argue, period genre if you go back far enough. Maybe, dystopia can be thought of as a chaotic, apocalyptic sub-genre of fantasy with vestiges of its escapism, and hence people like me, who had grown up on Harry Potter and other fantasy books were only happy to get an escape again, even if it was to a world that was absolutely messed up.

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fictionchick.deviantart.com

There is also the fact that while Dystopia as a genre might appear to be very superficial and simple, many of its classic examples are quite deep. I recently reread The Hunger Games, and I was quite surprised by the fact that the book is a great commentary on society, on politics, on war and on trauma as a whole. I was quite young when I first read it and thus, those subtleties were lost on me. As an adult, however, the more I read into it, the more I realise, that many of these were actually brilliantly written tales of caution, of what could happen and thinly veiled depictions of what already is happening in the world. Looking back, reading these books and watching these movies, intentionally or unintentionally made me more open-minded, brought to the fore the importance of equality and ended up making me quite sensitive to prejudice and discrimination. Helping me develop a strong moral compass was also, due in some part, to the fiction I consumed and for that, I am extremely thankful.mr-top-143407-1280x0

As far as the fascination for zombie apocalypses is concerned, I don’t think that its just a 2010’s exclusive thing. Since time immemorial, humans believe in the idea that we as a race are our own worst enemy and that humankind would be the one to end humankind, and zombies seem to be one of the ways we externalise that idea. Even books like A Song of Ice and Fire, or as it was popularly known, The Game of Thrones toyed with the zombie idea. This can be a separate post altogether and I can go on for ages so I’ll try to keep it short. I too had a zombie apocalypse phase, and as someone who has been through it, I can tell you how I think this surge in the popularity of the undead happened. The late 2000s brought us the cultural phenomenon that was Twilight with all its vampires, werewolves and whatnot. This increased interest in young adult fiction set around similar mythical creatures and I think the zombie fiction just rode in on the heels of that Twilight wave until it became a phenomenon itself.

iStock / Special to The Forum

At the end, where it came from, where it went, we can only guess. All that I am sure of is that for the greater part of a decade, young adult fiction was ruled by stories of the world ending, and it developed values and moral systems in the adults of today. I don’t see it coming back soon, you know, what with all of us pretty much living through our own apocalypse plot in 2020(I’m pretty sure anyone who has ever wished to be able to live in one of these books, no judgment, has some regrets now) but I think we should prepare ourselves for there being future apocalypse fiction inspired from 2020. I’ve always wondered, and I’m sure more people have, what I’d do if there was an apocalypse and the answer is unsurprising as well as humbling: nothing, just sit at home and live life as normally as I possibly could. Oh well. Not all of us can be 16-year-olds navigating romance and saving the world from doom at the same time.

THIS POST’S QUESTION: What was your favorite Dystopian fiction from the 2010s? Comment below with what you think about it,I’d love to hear from you!

 

 

 

 

De-myth-ify: Sisyphus (Part Two)

Let’s talk about some classic Greek mythology, a story from Homer’s Iliad of a man immortalised after his death, today. This is part two of a two-part series on Sisyphus. If you haven’t read the previous part, do go and read Part One before you continue here.

Now that the story is done, let’s talk about it.

So, when we finished our story, Sisyphus was eternally damned to push a boulder and fail at it. This is also what Sisyphus has unwittingly become famous for. This story was quite different from the more ‘classical’ myths we have discussed before in many ways. Here, a guy brought his fate on himself, unlike Oedipus who was pretty much at the mercy of his terrible luck or Perseus who was destined to be a hero. For Sisyphus, he was seemingly receiving the ‘karma’, if you will, for his actions, i.e. his terrible fate came from his terrible actions. His life and decisions were completely in his control and he was (apparently) fully responsible for his punishment.

Although, it is never exactly stipulated what Sisyphus earned his punishment for; his scorn of the gods, his hatred of death or simply, upsetting the natural order of things? His punishment being fit for his crime is a controversial thing logically, at least in my mind because for that we have to consider which crime exactly he is being punished for. It seems like a teensy bit much, to eternally punish someone. (I know he was a murderer, he chained up death and stuff but still) Was it so harsh because the gods wanted to make an example out of him? To demotivate other mortals from trying to resist the natural order? To teach people to not incur the wrath of the gods and uphold their ideals; like Xenia? Is it really a justified punishment? This is all worth having a think over. (And maybe, Zeus if you’re listening, have a council answer?)

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Sisyphus by Titian

Nevertheless, I could not discuss this story without bringing up the French philosopher Albert Camus’ very famous and revolutionary essay, “The Myth of Sisyphus”, which uses this myth to introduce and explain the philosophy of ‘absurd’. (I highly recommend giving it a read, it is very thought-provoking!) In this existentialist essay, Camus dissects the ethos of the myth and gets into the nitty-gritty of it. He brings up the fairness of Sisyphus’ punishment, much like we just discussed. He also puts forward that the story of Sisyphus can be considered a tragedy like Oedipus Rex but unlike that story where events transpired because of the character’s lack of awareness about their destiny, the myth of Sisyphus becomes tragic because Sisyphus is aware of the futility of his fate, of the uselessness of his labour. We can even see this aspect of this myth highlighted in modern linguistics like in English, a Sisyphean task is one that is considered laborious and futile; a task that can never be completed. (I love finding such things in everyday life, its almost like pop culture reference but for myths that are thousands of years old, how cool is that?)camus

Camus thinks of Sisyphus as an ‘absurd hero’.His fate is very much his because he knows that the boulder will roll back down every time and still, he persists. He doesn’t stop pushing it despite being aware that it is pointless and useless, and for that, according to Camus, he should be considered a hero in his own right. Being set up for failure and still persisting takes its own special kind of strength and is exactly what makes Sisyphus an ‘absurd’ hero. From here, he uses the absurdity of Sisyphus’ heroics to explain the philosophy of the absurd. Camus puts forth the idea that human life, as we know it is just as futile as Sisyphus’ punishment, if not more. We still try our hardest at it, we still live each day, we acquire resources, we build connections and we don’t stop, even though it is all utterly useless. Life is inherently devoid of meaning but humans since aeons ago have not and will not stop searching for it. This is the absurdity of the human affliction and the absurd nature of humanity’s existence. (I told you it was existentialist. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.)

As you might have realised, the genius of this myth is quite extraordinary. It might seem like such a small, dare I say, absurd(!) myth, but Homer really put forth a piece of genius through it. The more you delve into it, the more meanings you can find and the more wonderfully enlightened discussions you can have. It has been a joy to discuss this story and discover how much I had underappreciated it. With that, we come to the end of our journey with Sisyphus.

Until our next mythic adventure!

THIS POST’S QUESTION: What are your thoughts on Albert Camus’ philosophy of the ‘absurd’? Comment below with what you think about it,I’d love to hear from you!

 

De-myth-ify: Sisyphus (Part One)

Let’s talk about some classic Greek mythology, a story from Homer’s Iliad of a man immortalised after his death, today. This is part one of a two-part series on Sisyphus.

For the previous series of posts on Perseus and Medusa in the De-myth-ify series, click here.

Today’s story is quite different from the ones we have discussed before. For one, this isn’t the story of a hero, of a good, brave guy just trying to exist without offending the gods, having a prophecy made about him or getting into other greek trouble. It’s someone who is quite literally the opposite, a man who lived to scorn the gods, did not care and just, wasn’t a great guy. His story is also quite different as in the most important part(and what he is known or) came after his death, after his story concluded. So, without further ado, let’s get into the story of the man who was in Homer’s words, “The most cunning of all men”, Sisyphus.

Sisyphus was the sly, deceitful and ruthless (and if you didn’t figure it out, very Slytherin) king of Corinth. He was super extravagant, lived in general disdain of and did not care about the wrath of the Greek gods (Which is almost I daresay, refreshing). To prove himself an iron-fisted ruler, he would often kill the guests and travellers that came to Corinth. (What else would you do?) This was a big no-no in Ancient Greece and a direct violation of Xenia, the concept of generosity and hospitality shown to guests. The patron of Xenia was Zeus(who you know, isn’t that great himself), who obviously was really angry with Sisyphus and wanted to punish him. Zeus ordered the God of Death, Thanatos to chain him up in Tartarus, the deep abyss in the Underworld, for all eternity. (Punishment fitting the crime indeed)

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Zeus de Smyrne discovered in Smyrna in 1680.

When Thanatos came for him, genius trickster as he was, he asked Thanatos to demonstrate to him how the chains worked, trapped him in them and escaped. (Say what you will, but that is smooth) Since the literal personification of death was chained up, people stopped dying. You could be chopped up to bits and still make it to dinner. The gods were mortified and finally, Ares, the God of War went and freed Thanatos because with no one dying, his wars had become boring. (Great reasoning) So now, our protagonist has literally cheated death and effectively levelled up. Would you believe that he will cheat death one more time? (You’d think they’d learn, right?)

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Thanatos sculptured marble column drum from the Temple of Artemis at Ephesos, c. 325–300 BC

The second time around, Sisyphus instructed his wife, Merope to not perform the proper burial ceremonies for him after his death and throw his naked body in the middle of a public square as a test of her love( Seems a bit extra, but okay) Due to this, when he reached the Underworld, he manipulated the Queen Persephone into letting him go back to scold Merope and ensuring that the proper rites occur. She lets him go because she is great and then once back, he shows no signs of coming back to the land of the Dead. Thanatos is understandably too terrified of the man and thus refuses to go to bring him back and Sisyphus ends up living to a ripe old age. (I know he’s a murderer and stuff but what an icon)

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Statue of Persephone. Heraklion Archaeological Museum, Crete

When he finally died, the gods knew they weren’t going to let him go this time. Now, we get to the most famous part of the story, the part you knew, if nothing else about Sisyphus. He was eternally punished to push a boulder up a hill, futilely because as soon as he would reach near the top, the boulder would roll back down and he would have to start over from the bottom of the hill. (Not sure if the crime fits the punishment here exactly but we’ll get into that later) So, as the legend goes, Sisyphus is still at his hill in the Underworld, pushing a boulder up a hill, doing an arduous task that is doomed to fail. And on that, laboured(Ha!) note, we come to the end of the story of the very grey character that was Sisyphus.

To be continued.

THIS POST’S QUESTION: Do you think Sisyphus deserved his punishment? Why/Why not? Comment below with what you think about it,I’d love to hear from you!

 

 

A Changing Sense of Time During Lockdown.

Let’s talk about the concept of time during the COVID19 pandemic today.

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of light, it was the season of darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair.”

The opening lines of Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities really capture how I feel about the lockdown during the current coronavirus pandemic. The reasons to dislike it are obvious and many; I can’t go outside, can’t meet my friends, can’t go to college, the economy is being ruined, so many livelihoods are affected and obviously, so many people are getting ill and dying, the aforementioned worst of times. I have been privileged enough to, however, find some nice things about it too; a whole lot of gratitude for what I had taken for granted before, all this time to spend doing things I love, how I have been able to work on my blog and have a transformed outlook on living every day to the fullest, not the best but very special times. (As of today, I am still very much in the thick of the pandemic, so the day I get back out there is a bit far for now)

I have talked about the coronavirus pandemic, its impact on the world and most majorly, its impact on my world in two of my posts before, which you can find here and here. In both of these posts, I talked more of the immediate reaction to suddenly finding myself in the middle of this pandemic and stuck at home, than the effects of being on lockdown for what is now the majority of 2020 and the contemplations that come with it. In this post, I’m getting into that aspect of life through a pandemic. (And I admit that this is through my undoubtedly privileged lens)

One thing I have noticed and have actually discussed with a few people is that time seems to be standing still and whizzing ahead at the same time. Like, how I for one feel like I have just been living the same day over and over and have not registered the passing of the months after March. (How is it literally almost August?) But also, there is the fact is that somehow 4 almost 5 months have passed and my 21st-year in life and 4th(and last) year in University are just passing me by, without me having registered it.

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This realisation that time stops for no one, not even a crippling,world-stopping pandemic, is not a new one. We choose not to think of it but even so, we do sometimes realise this in regular life too, as we look back and think, “Oh, I was just in school!”, “I just became a teenager!”, “Didn’t I just get my driver’s license?” and many more such quips, but never as acutely as now. This has been bothering me since at least May when I realised my third year of college was effectively over, abrupt as it was. This worry has only grown since and thus, obviously, I have done a lot of (over)thinking about it.

All this thinking has brought me to conclude that we, as a society, as human beings, measure the passage of time through milestones, through events, through watching the world around us change. Being stuck at home means that the big occasions; the birthdays, weddings, graduations look quite different or are cancelled. Not getting to go outside means that we don’t get to watch the seasons change, through the trees and the sky, not properly, so we miss out on nature’s signs that time has passed. We tend to make plans for the next few months and countdown to them and in such uncertainty, all plans have been thrown for a wrench. We can no longer plan vacations, parties or even, going to college far from home. With nothing to look forward to, we don’t quite feel the months as they pass us by.

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As depressing as that sounds, I also came to realise that the best way to handle lockdown is to live one day at a time, even if it is the same day over and over, try to find something new to do every day, to do things that make you happy, to socially distance but not emotionally distance and to use this crazy time to come out better at the end of it. With that thought, before I go, I’d love to wish you good luck for the rest of the year and take this opportunity to say that I really hope you and your loved ones stay healthy and safe. Please take care!

THIS POST’S QUESTION: Have you felt like time is going by too fast during the lockdown or do you think it is going too slow? Comment below with what you think about it,I’d love to hear from you!