Devdutt Pattanaik

25th April 2020

Rebirth & Revenge: Philosophies of Paigambars and Digambars

What is common between the current COVID-19 crisis and the Biblical story of Noah's Ark? In the Paigambar tradition of mythology, both are incidents that illustrate the consequences of not following the message, or the paigam, of the Almighty, explained Devdutt Pattanaik. The mythologist, author and management guru was speaking on the two main paramparas of mythology: Paigambar and Digambar. The occasion was a special Kalam Vishesh online session. In conversation with Pattanaik, who has authored more than 40 works of mythology and management, was Gaurav Girija Shukla of Abhikalp Foundation, which is associated with the PKF. The mythologist started the session by going into the etymology of the word 'kalam', which is of Turkish origin. And it is the Turkish who, about eight centuries ago, brought pens to India along with paper, which the Chinese had started using much earlier. Before the arrival of pen and paper, Indians used to write on stones, leaves, bhojpatra and tambra patra. The same syncretism can be seen in the origin and evolution of the Paigambar and Digambar traditions. Pattanaik explained how the Paigambar parampara originated in West Asia and has been imbibed by Judaism, Islam and Christianity. One would come across narratives from this tradition in Europe, America and the West Asian countries. The Digambar parampara, on the other hand, originated in India and its ethos can be found in Hinduism, Jainism and Buddhism. The greatest difference between the two branches is that while the Digambar tradition is rooted in punar janam or rebirth, which is very much a part of the Hinduism-Jainism-Buddhism triad of faiths, the Paigambar tradition is centred around the belief that humans live only once. To make the most of this one life and be judged favourably in the afterlife, believers in the Paigambar tradition need to follow a set of rules conveyed to them by the Supreme Power — called the Allah or the Lord, depending on the faith — through messengers called the Paigambars. Mohammad, Jesus Christ, Moses and David are some of the Paigambars known across the globe. The Paigambar faiths emphasise cause and effect, virtue and blessing, sin and retribution or punishment. Referring to the pandemic, Pattanaik said many in the West Asia see the pandemic as a consequence of not following the message of the Almighty. It has the same moral as the story of Noah's Ark. In modern times, the Paigambar ideology finds reflection in legislators formulating laws in Parliament for citizens to abide by. The Digambar tradition is steeped in dharma and karma, with special focus on moksha and nirvana. Pattanaik cited Shiva and Buddha to explain how renunciation and tyaag (sacrifice) are significant in the Digambar faiths. Everyone has their respective karma or deed and no two people are the same. Each has a unique journey to undertake to attain absolution, which is liberation of one's soul from the endless cycle of birth and death. "It means that no child is born on earth with a clean slate. He comes to the world with debt. This debt could be of various kinds," Pattanaik elaborated, explaining how, in the Digambar tradition, we are indebted to our ancestors for our legacy and lineage and how we inherit the obligations that come with them. We owe debts to the gods and so we must perform rituals in temples and make offerings to them. We are indebted to the plants and animals that sustain us. We also owe a debt to the sages and therefore, we should reflect on what they discovered — focusing not only on our external journey and success but also on our internal journey. Essentially, Pattanaik noted, the Digambar approach is to let go and observe the world for what it is, with emphasis on forgiveness. The Paigambar approach is to follow rules and be aware of actions and consequences. He explained the two approaches by citing two ways of serving food. The Indian way is serving all the dishes together in a thali and the Western way is to serve courses, one after the other. If the Paigambar tradition follows standardisation, the Digambar tradition works around customisation, said the mythologist. This can be seen in the different ways Diwali is celebrated in different parts of India, whereas the Ramzan rules are the same across the world. Pattanaik pointed out that the Digambar philosophy is more prevalent in polytheistic and pagan religions, while the Paigambar philosophy is more oriented to the newer monotheistic religions. Pattanaik took questions from the audience, explaining how popular mythological figures can be placed in the context of the Digambar and Paigambar traditions. At the core, the author stressed, the Digambar parampara is based on repaying debts over multiple lives while the Paigambar parampara is centred around making individuals accountable for their actions, virtuous or sinful, in one lifetime. The session was attended by 300 guests in India along with an overseas audience. The session ended with the vote of thanks by Shukla.


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