When it comes to the Indian context, the figures of speech and the ways of persuasion take a drastic change from the Western world, focussing more on the collective faith. This faith leads up to those values and aspirations that are being embedded in every individual through a tedious process that starts from a very tender age. Being the manifestation of a collective consciousness of right-doing and wrongdoing, the myths act as a different language altogether and transcend beyond surface reality. Setting up the protagonists of myths as our saviors, our role models, we subconsciously start looking up to those who resemble (even slightly) our collective idols. Indian culture’s emphasis on symbolism-inner meaning gaining importance over outer form, tends to obvious exaggeration to render the idea of inner virtue, as can be observed in our daily lives (religious sculptures/portraits, Bollywood characters, etc.) and acts as a constant reminder of cultural unity.

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Taking the example of Mahatma Gandhi, this tool, intentionally or unintentionally was successfully used by him to interact with millions of people in a short span of time. According to S. Balaram, he used the language of mythology using certain symbols as a political strategy to communicate his ideas and agendas. These persuasive strategies-symbols varied from the use of physical objects, use of certain words in other languages, to personal appearance- all to convey the messages that existed in a different medium. The code used by the minds to decrypt from one language to another, in this case, was our perceived notions about the character of Lord Krishna in Hindu mythology. The similarities between the actions and the use of words of both the figures are uncanny. In both cases of rebel against the evil (The Indian Freedom Movement and The War of Kurukshetra), a similar way to proceed for the final goal can be observed. The symbols (physical objects, words, behavior) used by Gandhiji functioned not in their essence as they might not stand the test of time, but with their mythological connection.

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Meanings were attributed to objects or symbols that were created to sustain their values. They were simple products governed by complex semantics whose grammar every Indian readily understands. Also, some symbols were used to directly identify with every individual’s values and ideals. This, in turn, signified the essence of unity. Also, every object chosen was an archetypal manifestation of poor Indian belongingness-simple, mundane and humble, imparting a contextual meaning. Symbolic references within symbols can be decoded using various metaphors (words, myths, religion, culture, etc.) using threads of social and psychological woven aspirations.

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In the constant process of associating oneself with the mass or an idea, there comes a time, when it’s no longer an association, but an indistinguishable essence. Gandhiji became ‘Bapu’. From using symbols of non-violence and practicing it, he himself became a symbol for non-violence and self-reliance.

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Such symbols to provoke certain thoughts and actions were used by Gandhiji in the most appropriate manner. Slowly, these symbols became a part of him to signify his ideals rather than the values it was earlier intended to represent. Much later, to be associated with Gandhi and his values, people went overboard to take political advantage of his image. The symbolic reference of the same symbols used by Gandhi shifted to represent the thoughts of the present context. Hence, in the present context, the Gandhi cap is being associated with the politicians of the country and in turn signifying corruption and deceit.  Thus, the symbolic function of every metaphor gradually changes with every comprehension of that symbol. Myths evolve themselves with every read, in different time periods, different contexts and are comprehended differently with different perspectives. The relationship between the symbols and the users (who comprehend these symbols) is two way. Both signify each other.

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Hence, summing up the thoughts of S. Balaram, in order to become better designers; we need to design entities that in some way or the other relates to the deep-rooted values of the user (in the context of Indian majority-it could be the Hindu mythologies). The meaning of every symbol is not conspicuous, but comprehensible through its reasonings and logic and through the story behind it. Every action and inaction, every word said and unsaid, every element put and left behind, signifies a message other than it’s obvious. Going deeper into such messages gives a deeper understanding of the ‘to be’ final product and it’s the process of making. Without symbolic reference to Mythology, product meaning becomes entirely dependent on their variable context and hence, semantically and motivationally unstable. The familiarity (Values-Mythology) and the individuality (Relative-Context) should be balanced out so as to design a product that neither acts as a souvenir nor comes with a ‘from Mars’ tag, but is most appropriate in its context, interacting with the mass.

 

Author

Resisting easy categorization and expectations, Arunima Kalra is an architect through education, but she professes art, design, entrepreneurship, writing and many other professions with passion and vibrant imagination. Geeky, impulsive and a bit rebellious, she can be spotted working towards her own artistic utopia.

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