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#BlogchatterWritFest 2023

Writing mythology can be a complex and challenging task. Aspiring writers are often faced with many questions and uncertainties, which can make the task seem daunting. For instance, they may question whether the mythology is still relevant to modern audiences and how to make these ancient stories resonate with contemporary readers. Additionally, writers may wonder how to represent the characters and themes in a way that is both appropriate and respectful, while also handling potentially sensitive or controversial topics. With all these uncertainties in mind, writing mythology can be a daunting task for many.

Attending the #BlogchatterWritFest workshop with Satyarth Nayak, the author of Mahagatha, proved to be an enlightening experience that dispelled our fears and doubts about writing mythology. His guidance and insights were highly encouraging and left us feeling empowered and confident enough to take on the challenge of writing our own mythological tales.

The Mahagatha author’s passion and enthusiasm were evident as he answered various questions, making for an engaging and informative discussion. His deep knowledge of the subject matter was palpable, leaving us with valuable insights and guidance. Here are a few of the questions that were discussed during this insightful workshop, which was arranged by Blogchatter and left us feeling inspired and motivated to explore mythology further.

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Q: How can we research places and/or characters of mythology?

The author emphasized the importance of research, not just for mythology, but for any genre of writing. He attributed his disciplined approach to research to his experience as a correspondent with CNN-IBN. The author also stressed the importance of reading and absorbing existing works on mythology to gain a deeper understanding of the subject matter. As an example, he shared that he had read multiple versions and translations of the Puranas while researching for his book Mahagatha, which is a compilation of 100 tales from the Puranas.

Q: Should mythology be kept relevant to current times or preserved in the period it was originally set?

The author responded by stating that it ultimately comes down to the writer’s personal and creative choice, as both approaches have their merits. Presenting mythological stories in their original form, as they were set in their original period, can evoke a sense of nostalgia and longing. On the other hand, retelling these stories through the lens of contemporary times can make them feel more relevant. Ultimately, the choice of how to present these stories is up to the author and should be made accordingly.

Q: How one should go about picking a specific version of a mythological story, given the many different variations that exist?

The author acknowledged that this can be a confusing process, but he also highlighted the beauty of the plurality of voices in Hindu mythology. He stated that every narrative has its place and should be celebrated rather than causing confusion.

The author then provided a useful tip for selecting stories for one’s own work. He suggested that one needs to be clear on the narrative framework and overarching theme of the book first. Once this is established, one can then select stories that are interlinked and form a chain of events that help the narrative move forward. For instance, the author handpicked stories from the Puranas for his book Mahagatha, constructing a narrative that travels through the four yugas and offers continuous and organic action.

The author also emphasized that it is natural for a writer to be drawn to stories or perspectives that resonate with them based on their own upbringing and personal beliefs. Ultimately, the choice of which version of a mythological story to use should be guided by the writer’s creative vision and the needs of their narrative.

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Q: How to ensure that a story told from the perspective of a mythological character is true to the character’s perspective and not the author’s own perspective?

The author acknowledged that this is a common struggle for authors, but emphasized that the key is to be true to the character. He explained that it is not necessary for the author to agree with the character’s beliefs, but it is essential to inhabit the character and their worldview. The author shared his experience of writing about Sati, the youngest daughter of Daksha who marries Lord Shiva against her father’s will. He faced a dilemma when he had to write Daksha’s dialogues using strong language and cursing Mahadeva, as he was a devotee of Mahadeva himself. However, to be true to the character, he had to put aside his own beliefs and remember that being true to the character doesn’t mean he agrees with the character’s beliefs. The audience will understand that it is the character speaking, not the author.

Q: How to make mythology interesting for readers?

He responded by emphasizing that mythological stories are inherently interesting and that the author’s job is to present and retell them in a compelling way, using language and narrative techniques to engage readers. As an example, he cited his own book, Mahagatha, which weaves together interlinked stories from the Puranas and concludes each one with a cliffhanger to keep readers hooked.

Q: What do you think is the X-factor in bestselling mythology books?

In response, Satyarth stated that it is called X-factor for a reason implying that there is no definite answer. As the Indian market has no set formula for success, it can be challenging to identify the exact X-factor that makes a book a bestseller. Instead, he advised writers to focus on writing what genuinely excites them rather than writing with the intention of creating a bestseller. According to him, when writers write with passion and excitement, it naturally reflects in their work, and readers are more likely to identify the X-factor in their writing.

Q: What is your favourite mythology story?

The Mahabharatha.

Q: What’s your current read?

The Mahabharatha– A set of 10 contemporary books with Mahabharatha Stories by Bibek Debroy

Q: How can we modernize mythology?

The author mentioned that while there are many stories in mythology that are inherently modern, such as King Sudyumna’s transformation into a woman, which is relevant to contemporary queer representation, it’s important to be conscious of the context and period in which a story is set. For instance, there are stories in mythology that may not make sense when modernized, such as the one where Rama punishes a Shudra. Therefore, the key is for the writer to make a deliberate and informed choice about what elements to modernize and what to keep intact based on the content of the story.

Q: In retellings of mythology, some authors introduce new characters to the existing narrative. Doesn’t that confuse readers about what’s the original version and what’s not?

The author agreed that some retellings of mythology do introduce new characters, which is the author’s creative and dramatic license. However, the readers should approach such retellings with the awareness that it’s not the original version and the writer has exercised their creative liberty. This can be found/made clear through the author’s note or introduction at the beginning of the book.

Q: Apart from Krishna, who is your favourite character in Mahabharatha?

While Krishna remains his favourite character, the author said that if he had to choose one from the Puranas, it would be Lord Vishnu. He said he admires him for the selfless act of taking avatars to serve the greater good (Jankalyan), even if it means being cursed.

With that inspiring answer, the conversation came to a close. It was an absolutely insightful session with Satyarth Nayak. The team Blogchatter never ceases to delight its members with such sessions and other workshops/challenges. I have done my best to recount everything I can remember, and I hope that this conversation has been as inspiring for you as it has been for me.

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