Read an enriching perspective on whether ‘myths’ are ‘true’ or no, in the prologue of the book “The Lost River: On the trail of the Sarasvati” by Michel Danino. Putting this here, without the permission of the publisher, but i suppose small excerpts are legal – after all – this post may help get a few more copies sold. So here goes…

And whether or not a myth has some historical basis, it is ‘true’ as long as it lives – and works – in the minds of it has shaped. The great flood, the churning of the ocean, the decent of Ganga, the construction of a bridge to Lanka by an army of monkeys, or Krishna’s lifting of the Govardhan hill are, in that sense, true. Whether they are ‘facts’ in our limited sense of the term is irrelevant: myths are something greater than facts. As long as we live life like a burden on our shoulders, Gilgamesh will pursue his quest for immortality, and Sisyphus will keep pushing his boulder uphill only to see it down rolling again. Myths of creation, of origin or identity, myths of conquest and heroic defiance, all fufil precise social, cultural and spiritual functions. Whether or not a myth has grown around a historical seed, it is a marker of history.

Our modern mind cannot easily grasp the role and impact of myths in ancient or traditional societies, whether Greeks, Polynesian or Indian: today’s societies are ‘mythless’ ones; for better or worse, we have depopulated our inner worlds. In a bizarre reversal of meaning, the very word ‘myth’, which originally meant ‘word’ or ‘speech’ in Greek (much like the Sanskrit ‘vach‘), has come to evoke a web of lies, a concocted fable or a collective delusion.

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