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The conversation about Indian mythology books for children is not straightforward. Indian mythology is generally used to refer to stories about the Hindu pantheon, and also often the epics Ramayana and Mahabharata. While these tales feature gods, goddesses, demons, magic, and mayhem — much like Norse and Greek mythology — unlike these traditions, Hindu mythology is still very much a part of the religious, social, cultural, and even political lives of a large number of people.
Children born in Indian Hindu households grow up consuming these stories. As a child, I loved these fantastic tales — especially those from the shaktya tradition dominant in my home state — which involved the feminine power, or Aadi Shakti, quashing the egos of pompous male gods and slaying demons. But these tales are often presented in ways that reinforce racist, casteist, and sexist stereotypes. Positing these stories as the sole representation of Indian mythology erases the stories of the indigenous peoples of India, of other religions, and also versions of the same stories that differ from the widely accepted one.
Luckily, in recent years there has been a shift in the approach to writing mythology books for children, led by some brilliant independent children’s book publishers in India. There is active effort to highlight stories of indigenous communities, and of regions that are often ignored in national discourses. There is still a long way to go, but kids now have access to more diverse books than I had growing up. Writers are also finding, new, thoughtful ways of engaging with the well known tales from Hindu mythology. So read on, for a list of Indian mythology books for children that will provide kids with an introduction to enjoyable stories from Indian mythology.
Indian Mythology Picture Books for children
We Come from the Geese by Ruby Hembrom and Boski Jain
Ruby Hembrom is the founder of Adivaani, a small independent publisher dedicated to providing a platform for the stories by and of the indigenous peoples of India. In We Come From the Geese, she pens for children an origin story of the Santal community, accompanied by traditional illustrations that blend perfectly with the narrative.
The Secret God in The Forest by Anuradha Kumar and Piyush Verma
Puri in the Indian state of Orissa is famous for its Jagannath temple and the annual festival of Rath Jatra. Though Jagannath is supposed to be an incarnation of Vishnu, a little girl named Pria wonders why the idols look so different from those of other Hindu deities. Her grandmother then tells her the story of Neelmadhaba, the secret God of the Sabaras, an Indigenous community who lived in the forests. The story talks gently and accessibly of the dynamic nature of myths, how the myths of marginalized peoples are often appropriated into the mainstream, and how these myths manage to retain some of their distinctive character.
Creation by Bhajju Shyam with Gita Wolf
Tara books is an independent publishing house focusing on sustainable design and supporting indigenous artists and storytellers. Creation is a collection of myths about the origin of the world from the Gond tribe, beautifully illustrated by Gond artist Bhajju Shyam.
In Bon Bibi’s Forest by Sandhya Rao and Protiti Roy
The Sunderbans, part of the world’s largest river delta, is a dense mangrove forest home to the Royal Bengal Tiger. The lives of the people living at the edges of this forest are threatened as well as sustained by the forest and its non human inhabitants. This book talks about the myths of the Sunderbans born out of the confluence of Hindu and Muslim mythology, the importance of living in harmony with nature, and the daily struggles of the people who live in this region.
Ma Ganga and The Razai Box by Geeta Dharmarajan and Sonali Biswas
This book is published by Katha, an independent publisher and NGO working for children’s education in India. It stars a little girl who must save her village in the hills from environmental disaster by solving a puzzle posed to her by a miffed Ma Ganga, the river goddess from Hindu mythology. This story seamlessly integrates an ancient myth with modern environmental concerns, and it features gorgeous illustrations.
Ten Heads for Tanuj by Priya Narayanan and Shamika Chaves
Nine year old Tanuj is fascinated with asura king Ravana, the villain of the popular version of Ramayana, and his ten heads. One morning he himself wakes up with ten heads — and has to navigate daily tasks with them, until he manages to find a way to significantly reduce the number of heads he has managed to sprout. This is a hilarious and interesting new take on the epic, and highlights some lesser known stories from it.
Hanuman’s Adventures in the Nether World by Madhavi S. Mahadevan and Srivi
When a magician kidnaps the princes Rama and Lakshmana, it is up to Hanuman, their loyal friend and one of the most beloved gods in the Hindu pantheon, to journey to another world to save them. This is a myth retold in an engaging style for young readers, with cute illustrations.
Shiva Loves to Dance by Anita Raina Thapan and Roma Singh
The stories involving Shiva are some of the most interesting and multi-faceted stories in Hindu mythology. In this picture book, little Gittoo learns about how Lord Shiva dances happy worlds into existence. The book is a celebration of the joy that losing oneself in dance, music, or art, can bring.
The Enchanted Saraang: Stories from Kashmir by Asha Hanley and Protiti Roy
The beautiful land of Kashmir has been in turmoil for decades, at the center of many conflicts between India and her neighbor. This is a collection of stories that bring to life the mythology, folklore, and daily lives of the people living in this turbulent region. This, and four other books in this list, are published by Tulika books, who have a very interesting catalogue of mythology books for children.
The Fun in Devlok Omnibus by Devdutt Pattanaik
Devdutt Pattanaik is one of the most popular writers of modern interpretations of Indian mythology. This volume brings together six stories in a series he wrote for children, about the exploits of various deities. These traditional tales are thoughtfully narrated, with modern twists and quirky illustrations.
Middle Grade Indian Mythology Books
Ha… Ha… Hasya! by Ashok Rajagopalan
In Hindu mythology, the devas and the asuras are perpetually at war, and most stories based on it follow the familiar template of the victors and the vanquished. This book offers a hilarious, stereotype breaking, pacifist take on this eternal conflict. Follow teen god Hasya, who, to his great frustration, shares his name with the king of the asuras, as he journeys to the asura kingdom with divine espionage duties and encounters asuri princess Shantaswaroopa.
And That is Why: Manipuri Myths Retold by L. Somi Roy and Sapha Yumnam
This is a collection of stories from the mythology and folklore from the state of Manipur, a mountainous land in India’s often overlooked northeast. They have been retold by Manipuri author and translator L. Somi Roy and are accompanied by vibrant illustrations.
Fantastic Creatures in Mythology by Bulbul Sharma
Like Greek and Norse mythology, Indian mythology is populated with many bewitching beasts. Young readers will love meeting the most fantastic of them in this collection. The book also features absolutely breathtaking pictures of the creatures it describes.
Aru Shah and the End of Time by Roshani Chokshi
Popular author Roshani Chokshi’s middle grade fantasy novel draws upon elements from the Hindu epic Mahabharata. Twelve-year-old Aru Shah accidentally awakens a demon while trying to cover up the lies she has been telling her classmates about her life. The demon has to awaken the God of Destruction — and Aru has to save the day by going on an adventure to find the reincarnations of the Pandava brothers from the Mahabharata.
The Tenth Son by Ayan and Ashish Malpani
On a vacation from the U.S. to India, 10-year-old Advik receives a visit from Narada, the messenger of the gods. Suddenly, his grandfather’s life is under threat and he is drawn into the world of gods and demons, along with friends Riya and Samar. This is an exciting fantasy adventure story based on Hindu mythology.
Want to know more about this diverse country and its history and culture? Check out there must-read Indian history books and our starter kit for Indian writing in English. Here are more middle grade mythology recs and a list of classical mythology retellings.
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