ABOUT THE AUTHOR
J.M. Macfie is a Western author, who has written many books on Hinduism. Some of his well-known works are The Ramayan of Tulsidas or the Bible of Northern India, Shiva The Destroyer God and Vishnu The Preserver God and The Ramayan of Tulsidas.
Myths and Legends of India is a non-fiction book written by J.M. Macfie. The book attempts to explain the riveting tales from the Puranas, the Ramayana and the Mahabharata. Despite being a westerner, the author has done a good job of gleaning interesting stories from various sources and depicting them in an equally interesting manner. He also endeavors to explain the nature of Hinduism through an impartial study of its strengths and weaknesses.
The short, paperback book consists of 323 pages and is divided into two parts. The first part, comprising 29 chapters, basically deals with stories from the Ramayana and the Mahabharata. The second part encompasses 17 chapters and is concerned with the stories of Shakuntala, Nala and Damayanti, among others. While the first part is more concerned with the stories of deities and rishis, the second part includes stories of common men, women and their virtues. The book starts with an introduction to the Vedas, Puranas, and the Hindu deities. The author also expounds the reasons that prompted him to write this book.
The stories in the book are meticulously collected and compiled. Most of the stories like the churning of the ocean, a wonderful cow, the king who was made a Brahmin, the story of Manu, etc. are well-known to a majority of the Hindu population. These stories are passed down from one generation to the other. However, there are some not-so-popular stories that are certainly worth a read. At the end of each chapter, the author refers to the source of the story discussed over the course of the chapter. The footnotes, wherever required, also help to enhance the reader’s understanding. Apart from these, the detailed notes and references given at the end of the book enable the readers to improve their comprehension of the stories.
Though the author claims that he is impartial and fair in depicting the strengths and weaknesses of Hinduism, some concepts in the book indicate otherwise. For example, the author’s depiction of the Shiva lingams being obscene and his writing-off of India’s caste system as the cruelest in the history of mankind, reek of Western prejudices towards Hinduism and India. The author also uses a somewhat mocking tone, while explaining certain inconsistencies in the stories. Moreover, the stories are written from the author’s point of view, which makes the explanation seem a bit out of place.
The book is an introduction to the tales of Hinduism for the present generation, which does not have any idea about or pride in its deep-rooted culture and Vedic wisdom. It is, however, mainly meant for the foreign students, who study Hinduism as a subject.
There are many other books that expound these stories in a more detailed and less stereotyped manner. While Macfie’s choice of stories is good, his scornful tone and exaggeration of certain issues like caste and race, makes the author seem ignorant at best and prejudiced at worst. Having said that, do give this book a read if you want an alternate approach to the well-known stories of India.
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