Continuing with the critiques I started in 2015, here is the next in series – a book review.
Stars: 4.5 / 5
In 2016 Dusshera, the Indian festival of celebration of victory of good over evil, occurred on Oct 11th. This festival marks the death of Raavan at the hands of Lord Ram. (More about the festival here). So for this day I picked the first book in the Ram Chandra Series for my review - an apt book isn't it? **Wicked Grin**
Scion Of Ikshvaku is the first book in the Ram Chandra Series by Indian author Amish Tripathi published in June of 2015. It is based on the mythology Ramayana that tells the tale of Ram, the legendary Indian king and famed to be the Seventh incarnation (avatar) of Lord Vishnu. The plot is set in 3400 BC and explores the birth of Rama, his life to adulthood, wedding, banishment to the forest and kidnapping of his wife by Ravana - the Demon-King of Lanka. It also shows how Ram tried to establish Rama Rajya ( = Kingdom of Rama) in the middle of a corrupt Indian Society. However instead of leaving the story at the mythology-level that we know, author Amish explores it further - by taking apart the characters of each of the key players in the Epic, adding a tinge of philosophy and exposing their darker sides - for they were humans too. In fact, the author does humanize them, instead of leaving them as the mythological characters with power from the epic that we know so well.
The story begins at a time when Rama is banished to the forest, living year by year accompanied by his wife Sita and brother Laskhman, and after their botched encounter with Shurpanaka and Vibhishana - siblings of demon-king Raavan; and are now on the run trying to find Raavan and his location as he had abducted Sita. Interesting to see that the plot began somewhere in the middle but not at the beginning. They are aided by Jatayu, a vulture-man, belonging to the Naga class – a class of people born with deformities. This is another reference to the author’s book The Secret of the Nagas – second book in the Shiva Trilogy (My review on the book here). The author doesn’t show that being born with the head of an elephant or shaped-like a vulture are forms of supreme beings. But shows that how humans have condemned these birth defect people into a class of their own and how this class with sheer determination and hard-work have outshined themselves.
The plot then goes into past – thirty three years earlier – when Dashrath, King of Kosala and Emperor of Sapt Sindhu, is at the west coast – port of Karachapa - trying to put a much needed royal justice on the rebellious Lankan trader Kubaer. Here the author explores briefly the rigid caste system that had been inbred in Indian Society where the traders have to be from Vysya class subjected to heavy regulations and licenses while the warriors came from Khsatriya class. Dashrath faces Kubaer and Raavan – the army general of Kubaer in a war that he loses courtesy of Raavan’s brutal war-tactics. Dashrath realizes that Raavan was not just a mere general but a demon with vast powers. The author thus shows that the enmity between the Ikshvaku Kings and Lanka had not stemmed from what Lakshman had done to Shurpanaka or the botched meeting between Ram and Vibhishana but long before they were even born. Raavan is depicted as having great height with rippling muscles but with pock marks all over his body along with battle scars. And that he adorned a necklace with a pendant made of two human fingers. Normally in the mythology Raavan was depicted as a mighty and handsome demon-king – contrasting to what we see here.
Author highlights the part where Kaikeyi saves Dashrath’s life in the war with Kubaer and Raavan. I vaguely remember that Dashrath gives Kaikeyi two boons for saving his life. This is that story perhaps. However, since he humanizes these epic characters, he showed that Kaikeyi loses her forefinger in the process – which I don’t remember from the actual epic. The birth time of Ram is recorded incorrectly by Nilanjana – Queen Kaushalya’s doctor – to force the future to be a better one for Ram. But did it help? Despite the human intervention what the divine hand had offered Ram hadn’t changed in the end. I would say it’s a matter of perspective – Ram has suffered through his life as we know but he lives immortally in so many people’s minds and hearts even now.
The author further shows that Dashrath despised Ram as the day he was born Dashrath was defeated by Raavan and that rumors enflamed by Kaikeyi made Ram hated by the people of Ayodhya as well, for they believed that the continual attacks of Raavan in various forms are because of Ram's birth. Ridiculous as it may sound, sadly this is still in practice in the world where people believe that born under a wrong star one would bring ill to the family or place. However, this is different from the traditional Ramayan. Author also depicts numerous assassination attempts on Ram which may have been hidden or misconstrued in the real epic. Author further explores the poor and dire state the Kingdom of Ayodhya was heading to in the later years of Dashrath's ruling - which was not a ruling at all as he practically ignored everything since the day he was defeated. Such was the country which Ram had inherited - no wonder he went through a lot of hardships in his life. Ram is shown as being too idlyic, Bharat as too practical, Lakshman as too quick to jump to conclusions while Shatrughan too studious. Interestingly the author weaves a conspiracy between Nagas and Maharishi Vashishta like a movie plot, tying in neatly with the actual epic that tells how Vashishta's role panned out in Ram's life.
Manthara is depicted as a trader who is ten times richer than Ayodha's assets put together, and a confidant to Kaikeyi as opposed to her role as handmaid to Kaikeyi in the original epic. Ram is shown to take up the role of Chief of Police while Bharat is given the role of taking charge of Diplomatic affairs contrast to the actual epic - another move by Manthara and Kaikeyi that indeed changes the course for Ram and Bharat in the grand scheme of this game they are playing with fate. We come across Vayuputras - the left-over tribe behind by the previous Mahadev, Lord Rudra, who are tasked to protect India from evils and are waiting for the next Mahadev to rise. Amish had explored this tribe further in the third book of Shiva Trilogy - The Oath of the Vayuputras (My review in this book here). This connects the two series and also places the timeline of Ram Chandra Series ahead of Shiva Trilogy.
Mithila is depicted to be as poor a kingdom as Ayodhya and riddled with crime and evils all-over. However, Sita is portrayed as the Prime Minister of Mithila - and also author stresses on the fact that King Janak had given her equal rights as a royal even though she was adopted. There are a few scenes that are not related to the epic as far as I know - Sita meeting Ram prior to the Swayamvar, giving him tips of the competition and even volunteering to have Ram use the famous Lord Rudra bow Pinaka; Raavan waging a war against Mithila when he was turned down at the Swayamvar; self-imposed exile by Ram as he used the Daivi Astra (punishment for which was 14 years exile for the first usage and death for second usage) contrary to be forced by Kaikeyi to banish Ram into exile although the author ties that in neatly as well; Bharat has a girlfriend while he was staying with Maharishi Vashishta - a girl from the neighboring tribe; Vibhishana and Shurpanaka stay as guests at Ram's abode in the forest for a week as escapees from Raavan even though they were half-sbilings of Raavan; Shurpanaka has eyes on Ram and she tries to drown Sita but gets caught and in the ensuing struggle Lakshman's sword knocks off her nose. But in the epic it is shown as Shurpanaka havign desires for Laskhman instead.
Ram and Sita also ponder about having Somras - the divine liquid that gave royalty their longevity - available to everyone or none and talk about the technology that Vashishtha had developed that would mass produce Somras. This again ties into the plot of Shiva Trilogy - the central plot of that series in fact. And Sita also mentions that the new way of living will also give the kingdom a new name called as Meluha - A land of pure life. Another tie into the first book in the Shiva Trilogy - The Immortals of Meluha (My review on that book here).
Compared to the Shiva Trilogy (My review of this series here), I felt that Amish had used a much simpler language and easy pace here. Yet, Amish puts the spin of Ramayan in a different twist given it modern feeling making the readers relate to the events. He takes us through the caste system, elaborate discussions on masculine way and feminine way of ruling, the crimes that increase everywhere, the ill-ruling of King Dashrath and King Janak - one by indulging in self-pity and drinking and the other indulging in spiritual path, implementing monogamy and banning polygamy, Ram's ideals in making a better country, Asuraastras and Daivi Astras aka weapons of mass destruction that Vishwamitra want Ram and Sita to use, idea of a rigid system to overthrow the caste system, making law above none and finally their self-imposed exile. And finally the book ends where it began - kidanpping of Sita by Raavan.
But are Ram, Sita and Lakshman safe in the jungle? Would Kaikeyi try to get him killed? Will Raavan attack again avenging his defeat? Will the subtle war between Maharishi Vishwamitra and Marishi Vashishta - obviously both have been using Ram as a pawn in some game only known to them - explode into Ram's life and cause more disrupt? What about Bharat and Shatrughan - will they remain loyal to Ram? Will Malayaputras and Vayuputras warring against each other realize eventually that the end goal for both of them was Ram? How is this modern Ramayan going to pan put in the sequel coming from the mind of Amish Tripathi? Will be very interesting to see the twists, turns and the finale.
Another splendid mythology-based novel by Amish Tripathi that will leave you wanting more.