7 Secrets Of Shiva: A Religious Textbook, Not A Myth-Analysis

This is a book review for BlogAdda. The blurb of ‘7 Secrets of Shiva‘ by Devdutt Pattanaik says,

“Smeared with ash
Draped in animal hide
He sits atop the snow-capped mountain
Skull in hand
Withdrawn, with dogs for company
Destroying the world with his indifference
He is God who the Goddess shall awaken
His name is Shiva

Locked in his stories, symbols and rituals are the secrets of our ancestors. This book attempts to unlock seven.

This is not the first time I’ve read Dr.Pattanaik’s work. I immensely enjoyed ‘The Pregnant King‘ and ‘Jaya‘ enjoys a place of prominence on my windowsill book collection. I’ve also been following his articles and blogposts.

A lot of things draw me to Dr.Pattanaik’s writings. I have a dispassionate relationship with religion, customs and the concept of God & gods. I find it tiresome to labour through the reverence & perceptions that those of religious fervour, add to them. Most writing on religion reads like a priest’s preaching. I want to read about faith, belief & customs from an objective perspective and not from inside a “You must revere this or DIE!” mindset. All that I’ve read of Dr.Pattanaik’s writing so far, has matched that need. It has been refreshing to read his thoughts and even old stories, expressed without a fundamentalist ‘This is a God so we don’t question anything he/she does.’ attitude. I’m afraid 7 Secrets Of Shiva did not convey as much to me. It was as dry and preachy as the aforementioned religious treatises that I’ve taken much care to avoid.

Secondly, the other books I mentioned (Jaya & The Pregnant King) contained a fair degree of the author’s own analysis of beliefs. His articles often carry forward an idea from mythology and apply it to realities of our modern times. But 7 Secrets of Shiva seems to be no more than a collation of several floating stories about Shiva, with no sign of the author’s objective intellect showing.

There is a definite difference in tone from his earlier writing and this book. I used to think of Dr.Pattanaik as a keen, scientific observer of beliefs, myths and their relationship with human cultures.His earlier writing felt like a conversation between one intelligent, rational mind and another. But 7 Secrets of Shiva makes me feel like a stern-faced, elderly priest is frowning down on me while preaching from his dusty, religious texts.

Most notably, every Pattanaik work I’ve read so far has been beautifully illustrated by his own simple, distinctive sketches. I couldn’t find a single one in 7 Secrets of Shiva. Instead the book contains plenty of black and white photographs & paintings. The starkness of this is only compounded by a large font size, the kind you usually see in children’s books. Where is the quality I’ve come to expect from a Pattanaik book?

I get the feeling that I’m not the intended audience for this book. Perhaps it is a book for those completely unfamiliar with Hindu mythology and want a ready primer on the Shiva myth. Even so, I would rather recommend a simple Amar Chitra Katha over the dry, heavy tome that is 7 Secrets of Shiva. For the first time in my reading life, Dr.Devdutt Pattanaik disappoints.

Here are three other BlogAdda book reviews:

  • MyChocoletHandbag details each of the 7 secrets and why she was disappointed by the book.
  • ForeverInBlueJeans says that book is well-written but that she isn’t the right audience for it.
  • TellAStory appears to have liked the book and he too details the 7 secrets.

4 thoughts on “7 Secrets Of Shiva: A Religious Textbook, Not A Myth-Analysis

  1. Hey! Just saw your comment on my review, and then read yours. I am actually glad you have similar thoughts on the book, because I had only read good reviews of it so far. I had to take the objective tone also because this was the first book of the author I had read. I was almost scared to pick up Jaya, with this experience, and ofcourse the size of the book. But I did, and could not put it down for 2 whole days till I was done! Loved every bit of it.
    Haven’t read ‘The Pregnant King’ , and would definitely give it a try! This was a super-honest review in my opinion πŸ™‚

  2. I am about half way through this book and should say that I haven’t had so negative an experience as you describe. However, as you observe, my expectation of understanding the significance of religious beliefs revolving around Shiva, is perhaps different from yours. I agree with you on the lack of analysis (read author’s value add) to prevailing interpretations around Shiva’s myths, and in fact see this work as nothing more than a collection of research-based mythological interpretations. However, I disagree with the observation that this is a religious textbook with a preachy tone.
    And, I do not think that this is a primer for those who are unfamiliar with hinduism, because unless one has a reasonably fair understanding of the hindu approach to spirituality (which most of the hindus sadly lack given the blind focus on rituals), this book stands the risk of significant misinterpretation. (For instance I came across another post that suggested that this book had references to racial / gender superiority: fair to dark skin, men to women etc. which is absurd. Further, the critic was confused with the concept of discriminating between spiritual/material needs, understanding of which is key to interpreting the main idea that is conveyed through the various metaphors sprinked throughout the book.)
    Further, I do not find this work boring and in fact feel a disappointing lack of details in many cases. And, I most definitely can’t see how an Amar Chitra Katha will do a better job.
    Finally, conveying such a deeply esoteric subject rich in references to sexuality as the Shiva mythology to a mainstream audience is a tremendously difficult job. And while this book is not exactly spectacular, I would definitely credit it for the attempt given the difficulty. And yes, given that I have not read Devdutt’s other books, I won’t make any comparisons with his other works.

  3. i am very much interested to know about each and ever religion. this is very sweet because recently i read your :”an idea about shiva” in the magazine “the week” in our library. i still want to know more about it. thanks for sharing this and continue your great work……….

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