Roberto Calasso in conversation with Devdutt Pattanaik


In a meditation on the wisdom of the Vedas, Roberto Calasso, whom The Paris Review has called a ‘literary institution’, brings ritual and sacrifice to bear on the modern world. Little is known about the Vedic people, who lived more than 3000 years ago in northern India. They left behind almost no objects, images or ruins and created no empires. Even the soma, the likely hallucinogenic plant that appears at the centre of some of their rituals, has not been identified with any certainty. Only a ‘Parthenon of words’ remains: verses and formulations suggesting a daring understanding of life. “If the Vedic people had been asked why they did not build cities,” writes Calasso, “they could have replied: we did not seek power, but rapture.” This is the ardor of the Vedic world, a burning intensity that is always present, both in the mind and in the cosmos. With his signature erudition and profound sense of the past, Calasso explores the enigmatic web of ritual and myth that defines the Vedas.