Wednesday, November 09, 2011

Book review : "The 7 Secrets of Vishnu

I received the book, "7 Secrets of Vishnu" by Devdutt Pattanaik, (Westland, 2011)  for review, as part of the Blogadda Book reviews program.

I have read the author in his columns published on Sundays in newspapers, and have found his take on our Hindu Mythology quite intriguing.  I liked his style of writing, and so I looked forward to reading  "7 Secrets of Vishnu".

Basically this is about the seven avatars of Vishnu.  These are Mohini, Matsya, Kurma, Trivikrama, Ram, Krishna , and Kalki, and the various stories that are associated with these  in our Mythology.    It is interesting to learn, that due to the variety of regions, societies, and cultures followed in our country, there are interesting variations on the basic stories; in the sense that stories that I heard in my childhood 50 years ago, are heard with a slight variation, by someone else , say in the deep south, and maybe eastern India.

The author looks at these avatars and the various stories, as something that teaches us values:  Spiritual aspects  and Material aspects; what is essential for our proper growth and development as a society and as human beings; and what happens when we do not follow things . There are many stories one may have heard earlier or read earlier about, but here the author goes to the trouble of explaining what it is trying to imply in the way we give importance to the development of our  spiritual and material lives.

The number of different characters introduced in the initial chapters are large. It becomes a bit difficult to remember who is what. And one tends to turn back the pages to check things out. It becomes difficult to digest all the happenings.  Then there are a few clarifications. One always thought that "Devas "  were Gods who could do no wrong. The author explains that Devas and Asuras are brothers . Then again, Vishnu is defined as representing the material aspect of living, while Shiva represents the spiritual aspect . Laxmi , the consort of Vishnu (as known to us from childhood) has an intriguing role to play, that representing the materialistic aspects of life, while Saraswati , the other consort (I didn't know that; always thought she was by herself)  emphasizes the spiritual facets of living. Both are needed,  and excess of any has its own consequences.

One admires the author's ability to corelate  our basic repetitive functions of farming, sowing and harvesting  to births and deaths/killings, and rebirths. 

A few questions on Lakshmi, and her flitting from the side of Indra, to the Asuras, and then to the side of Vishnu. Where one gets the impression, that she is smitten with Vishnu, but her being there or not is just fine with Vishnu. This treatment is a bit disturbing. 

What is very new for me, is how the author describes the various Yugs, Krita Yug,Treta Yug, Dwapar Yug, and KaliYug, and shows a correspondence with the four stages of our lives on earth.  It is also very interesting to learn of the earth/Prithvi, being looked upon as a cow, standing in different balance modes corresponding to the Yugas. The most balance on four legs, during KritaYug, and the least balance  on a single leg during  KaliYug.

The author, in the course of the various chapters also elaborates on how some names have come about, which is very interesting, eg. the name Prithvi for earth.

There is so much that one can write here, and so much the author has written. It is difficult to assimilate all this in one read. You need to refer to this book again and again.   The book is illustrated with some amazingly marked  intricate figures, where the author takes the trouble of explaining the specialities of the particular God in a particular pose or avatar. 

The chapter I enjoyed the most , was that about Krishna, as an avatar of Vishnu. The childhood, the mischief, the humanness of Krishna, the maturing and departure for Mathura/Vrindavan, the firmness and stoicism about leaving his nurturers behind, the amazing mixture of tough philosophy, advice, and guidance given during the Kurukshetra war, his sense of justice at comforting Gandhari at her loss of 100 sons , and listening to her curse him. One can go on and on.    

One gets a bit overcome with the sheer number of characters, human, half human and animal type in the book.  One reading of this book is not enough. Going back and reading a particular part again, would possibly enhance one's understanding in a nonlinear way.

I think older folks will enjoy this book more, than say folks in their late 20's.

Its an amazing book.  Though I dearly wish, they had provided an index at the back  for quicker reference.  

This review is a part of the Book Reviews Program at Participate now to get free books!


  1. I would love to read this book! I have read his Jaya - Retelling of the Mahabharata, and loved it.

    Going by your review, I am sure I am bound to really enjoy reading this as well. Will try and get hold of it soon.

  2. I would love to read this book too! Thank you for the recommendation!

  3. Thanks for the reco...let me try to get my hand on it

  4. Thanks for the reco...let me try to get my hand on it

  5. Hi Kaku :)
    Loved the review. I had applied for it too :P Even I thought Saraswati was always by herself. There have been points in our scriptures where the treatment to women has shall I put it.... irreverent. I was shocked to note a line even in the Geeta - Lord Krishna was my idol! How could he advocate that? (The one where he says even women,ignorant and downtrodden can reach moksha) I was shocked at the EVEN used for women!
    Loved your summary for the book - I bet people in their twenties will enjoy it to - being in a phase when they analyze religion rationally rather than spiritually :)

  6. It seems yo have not known to all these fact earlier. I am not very surprized though.

    and as oyu explained only thing is one needs a basic knowledge of mythology before starting this book to avoid confusion and "going back"

    anyway going back will give reader a different perspective every time,
    you read Geeta and you think you have not read it earlier even 100th time. Every time different perspective.

    Good to know about the book.

    it's in Hindi or English?

  7. Am reading it just thot I'll peek into ur review. But couldnt leave the page without commenting. :)

    I love the way Devdutt explains things - in the most simplest way. The only problem is that there is way too info in one page to grasp and remember. As u said, I too referred to previous pages during various times.

    If this is the case with this book, that book Jaya was way too much explanation on the story of Mahabharatha. Damn good - but I need to refresh my memory again, if I need to tell the story to my girls. So many of his explanations make sense. Even Ashok Banker's Ramayana explains the concept of worshiping God in very similar terms to that of Devdutt.

    I seem to be obsessed with mythological / historical books, off late. :) :)

    Good review Suranga. :)

  8. I keep walking past the book at bookstores.. everytime wonderinng if it is too deep, too much for me to handle.. SOunds very interesting ..

    Neat review btw.. :-)