Book Review

Book Review: 7 secrets of Vishnu by Devdutt Pattanaik

Let us start with the negative aspects of this book. Does that make you want to know more? If yes, then, please stop for a moment. You are in the wrong place. I am just a simple wanderer who never tries to untie the knots of highly complicated logic to understand the true significance of God. Engineering Math and Carnatic music related nuances have been my closest encounters with complexity until marriage, that is, but I leave that discussion for a different day.

Frankly, a book titled “7 secrets of Vishnu” naturally draws negative criticism from learned pundits, but I am not a pundit and will never be one. The book was picked up as I liked its cover and have been reading the author’s weekly column in Corporate Dossier.

We all know that in our land of diversity, there are a million plus Gods & Goddesses. There are a billion plus people today. Over the years since ancient times, if I were to arrive at a random assumption that is not mathematically driven, I suggest that there must be more than 100 billion points of views on the various forms, avatars and situations that Vishnu, Shiva or Brahma or the Devas, Asurasa, Garudas, snakes have experienced across time. Maybe 99.5 bn opinions have been lost forever as the Internet was discovered only recently. Why would you want one more book with 7 secrets when you don’t even know if there are 10 avatars of Vishnu or 14 or 22?!

An open mind helps to keep things simple. [Rangaswamy Baba spake .. ]

The book starts with Mohini, moves on through each chapter to Matsya (fish), Kurma (tortoise), Vamana, Varaha, Rama, Krishna and finally to Kalki. He gives us a snapshot of his own interpretations of Devas and Asuras, Saraswati, Lakshmi (why they are not together, how Lakshmi keeps travelling from the skies to the underworld … i.e the world below and not Bhai related worlds) and how the patterns keep repeating.

My recommendation: Give it a quick read. You can do another quick pass of the pictures of murals, sculptures and paintings from all over India. That was a great learning experience for me. Maybe I had read these stories long ago, but can mythology ever get boring? The stories and characters always lend themselves to interpretations and when you have a single God depicted sometimes with the head of a horse, a peacock’s neck, with multiple arms, sometimes as a female, sometimes male the only way to benefit from the stories is to have an open mind, sieve out what you think is right and look at your inferences rather than trying to decipher the magic words that make Vishnu do all those things that we cannot do.

I am hoping the other 2 books in the 7 secrets series, on Shiva and on Calendar Art follow similar templates, where you have many pictures and information nuggets that can make you know a little more than what you may already know about Indian culture. However, if you are already an expert and want to read his book so that you can ridicule such authors, may Hayagriva be kind to you! By the way, I was happy reading about the significance of the white and red namams that Iyengars like me are associated with.

Spiritual and Material reality, Maya (whose web is intricate, yet simple): on such profound topics, Pattanaik has made a great attempt. I highly recommend reading the book in a 2-3 hour burst if not more and give it 3.5 stars / 5.

Wish I could draw! The paintings are so wonderful, if not for anything else I recommend that you pick the book for its illustrations from across India.


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