'Clearly, no hero can become one without a loyal and unquestioning set of followers.'
'But how does one deal with them once their purpose is served?' asks Arundhuti Dasgupta.
Illustration: Uttam Ghosh/Rediff.com
Fans, trolls, followers, worshippers; call them what you will.
The mobs that seek to convert non-believers to their cause or enforce adulation of their heroes and gods are running riot.
Using persuasion, force, skulduggery and whatever tool they can draw out of their arsenal, the lynch mobs are doing all that they can to ensure obeisance to the will of their designated god; invading real and virtual spaces with equal ferocity.
In this, they resemble the armies that gods of ancient civilisations nurtured to further their dominion.
Indra had his loyal Maruts, Odin the Einherjar, while Achilles had the Myrmidions.
Each used his armies to meet an objective, which once met, rendered the men (always men) to the sidelines.
The armies were created to serve a purpose, they had no role in peacetime, or once they had achieved the task that had been set out for them.
Indra's army, the Maruts are a pack of 180 followers according to the Rig Veda, but in the Puranas, their number drops to 49.
As sons of Rudra, they are Indra's companions and worshippers in the Vedas where their relationship is on a more even keel.
Even though the Maruts acknowledge Indra's superiority they do not hesitate to remind him of their power and the aid they have given him.
Described as men of might, armed with golden weapons and lightning bolts, the Maruts ride the rough and stormy winds. Interestingly, another name for the wind god, Vayu, is Marut.
They cause earthquakes, enjoy the drink of soma and bring the gods healing remedies that are hidden in the river, ocean and the mountains (just as Hanuman, son of the wind god, does for Lakshmana).
In the Indra-Vritra myth, the Maruts are the only ones to stand by Indra, boosting his morale when the rest of the gods scatter in fear of the great serpent.
Ruthless but independent -- that was how the ancients envisaged them in the Vedas.
By the time the Maruts appear in the Puranas, their character changes.
They are sons of Kasyapa and Diti and were conceived to destroy Indra. However, Diti's inability to play by the pregnancy rules (she went to bed without washing her feet!) and a vigilant Indra stopped that from happening.
Indra entered Diti's womb and sliced the embryo into seven parts. When the children cried, it incensed him so much that he sliced each of the seven parts into seven more and thus they turned into 49 Maruts.
And instead of being Indra's subordinates, the Maruts became his blind followers.
The Puranas tend to adopt a moralistic tone and this story was perhaps meant to warn women about flouting the rules while emphasising the strength of an all-powerful Indra.
The Maruts are often compared with the Einherjar of Norse mythology.
They served as Odin's army and were the resurrected spirits of all those who had died in battle.
The Einherjar were forbidden to speak with the living. Odin looked after them, fed them the choicest meat from the beast that was reborn every night, Saehrimnir and provided them with the best mead.
All this, so that they could fight by his side at Ragnarok.
The Einherjar were bred and nurtured for battle much like the warrior Myrmidons of Greek myth.
In the Iliad, the Myrmidons are Achilles's band of loyal men. They sit out the battle with him when he sulks in his tent, but jump in when he asks them to.
The Myrmidons are believed to have emerged from ants and the story goes that Aeacus, a demi-god born out one of Zeus's many illicit relationships, was lonely on his island where there was none other than him.
All the people had been destroyed by Hera, to wreak revenge on Zeus.
Aeacus appealed to Zeus for help, who transformed a colony of ants into people, the blood-thirsty Myrmidons.
One of the passages in the Iliad describes the Myrmidons when called to war as coming together 'dripping blood and gore'.
The description would apply to the countless armies that have sprung up across the world, who take offence at every imagined slight to their leaders.
It would also fit the fans that storm every physical space their stars occupy and seek out every conceivable virtual platform to express their allegiance.
Clearly, no hero can become one without a loyal and unquestioning set of followers.
But how does one deal with them once their purpose is served?
That is an answer many are looking for.