Tuesday, May 30, 2023

The Gift of Mythological Fiction


By Dhiraj Kumar

My dear friend and author Dr. Sona Sharma gifted me her latest book “Time & Tide- A thrilling journey through time as a myth becomes truth” (2021) to read and add to my ever-growing collection of books. Flipping through the pages, I lost myself into the world of the lead protagonist Samvardhana and his choices as he stands at the crossroads of his life. Inspired by the Mahabharata, Time & Tide takes us back to thousands of years into our ancient past and weaves a thriller in 150 pages published by The Write Place under Crossword Publishing. This book inspired me to write this article on the steady mix of authors tapping into mythological fiction to make some great reading.

India is a land of myths, stories, and epics that tell us about real and imagined events in rich Indian history. India’s most famous epics the Ramayana and Mahabharata have inspired numerous stories, films, and books that have regaled Indians for decades. Indians have worshipped the story of Vishnu avatars Rama and Krishna through the epics for centuries. The early Britishers translated the lofty Sanskrit and Pali versions of both epics into English which piqued the interest of English-speaking Indians and non-Indians to understand and comprehend the greatness of the story of Rama, Ravana, Krishna, Kauravas, and Pandavas into the daily lives. A European man Ralph Thomas Hotchkin Griffith (1826–1906) is credited to have done the first complete translation of the Ramayana into English titled The Ramayan of Valmiki. Before the mainstream bestseller books came in, Indian films had already captured the imagination of Indian audiences with film adaptations like Hindi film Ram Rajya (1943) Tamil film Sampoorna Ramayanam (1958) Telugu films Lava Kusa (1963), and Sampoorna Ramayanam (1971) based on the Ramayana and Hindi film Draupadi (1931) Tamil film Mayabazar (1957), Telugu film Pandava Vanavasam (1965) and even a film enacted by children in Sridevi starred Telugu film Bal Bharatam (1972) based on the Mahabharata. The late 1980s inspired Ramanand Sagar to bring in the story of Ramayana and B.R. Chopra to present the epic of Mahabharata into the drawing rooms of India through televised series on Doordarshan. 

India is also a land of dramatic storytellers, writers and authors who have tapped into our rich past to tell fascinating stories. Sahitya Academy Award winner Yuganta: The End of an Epoch, a book written by author Irawati Karve in 1968 is one of the earliest works inspired by the Mahabharata. Karve explores to interpret many of the events of the Mahabharata in a socio-political context is one of the earliest books in this genre. Books written by fiction authors knocking on the doors of the ancient past is a trend for decades, but few authors have risen to prominence and fame in the last two decades. While author Chetan Bhagat wrote on contemporary subjects and sold in millions,author Devdutt Patnaik excelled in fact-based mythological storytelling, it is author Amish Tripathi who weaved a series of books inspired by ancient epics and gods and brought mythological fiction back in business. His first book The Immortals of Meluha (2010), his first in the Shiva trilogy, took the book market by storm. The basic premise of the book is set in the land of Meluha, beginning with the arrival of the Shiva, making the Meluhans believe that Lord Shiva is their fabled savior. The Secret of the Nagas (2011) was his second book, and the third and final instalment was The Oath of the Vayuputras (2013), all bestsellers in mythological fiction. Subsequently, he topped up his literary collection with the launch of the Ram Chandra series and most recent bestseller Legend of Suheldev: King Who Saved India (2020).

Internationally, world-famous bestselling author Dan Brown published his controversial and part fiction Christian mythological book “The Da Vinci Code” (2003) created a worldwide sensation on the claims made in the book about the royal bloodline of Jesus. Medieval theories and symbolism were used to weave a compelling story about Christianity during and after the death of Christ. The 2017 book Norse Mythology by Neil Gaiman is the retelling of several stories from Norse mythology which has origins in Scandinavia. The fantasy book Children of Blood and Bone (2018) by Tomi Adyemi draws stories from West African mythology and follows Zélie Adebola as she tries to restore magic to her people and challenge a monarchy desperate to stifle it. Goodreads website presents the historical fiction Circe (2018) by Madeline Miller with a summary “In the house of Helios, god of the sun and mightiest of the Titans, a daughter is born. But Circe is a strange child – not powerful, like her father, nor viciously alluring like her mother. Turning to the world of mortals for companionship, she discovers that she does possess power – the power of witchcraft, which can transform rivals into monsters and menace the gods themselves”.

In India, other prominent authors also delved into bestselling books on mythological fiction, writer Anand Neelakantan’s debut book Asura: Tale of the Vanquished (2012) is a brilliant novel that tells the story of the Ramayana from Ravana’s point of view which makes it a compelling read. His next book Ajaya: Roll of the Dice is a 2013 book that tells the story of the Kauravas. For decades, we have read Like Asura which was the story from Ravana’s viewpoint, Ajaya is the story of Duryodhana’s viewpoint of the incidents of the Mahabharata.

Called the Indian Dan Brown, author Ashwin Sanghi started his writing career with a topic of wild imagination about Jesus surviving his crucifixion in his intriguing book The Rozabal Line (2008). Having tastes success in mythological fiction in his first book, he went on to write successful bestsellers Chanakya’s Chant (2010), Krishna’s Key (2012), and The Vault of Vishnu (2020), all page-turners in mythological fiction.

One of the authorities of mythology in India is author Devdutt Patnaik whose symbolism and art inspired by mythology is well known. Amongst the innumerable books he has written on our ancient past, The Pregnant King (2008) is a gem and his foray into mythological fiction set the cash registers ringing. Set in the backdrop of the Mahabharata and the Ramayana, The Pregnant King tells the story of Yuvanashva, a childless king, who accidentally drinks the magic potion meant to make his queens pregnant and becomes pregnant. A funny premise, the book provides for deeper meaning into gender, life, desire, and destiny.

The Palace of Illusions: A Novel is a 2008 novel by award-winning novelist and poet Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni. The novel takes us the triumphs and tribulations of Draupadi, one of the central characters from the Mahabharata from her point of view that of a woman living in a patriarchal world. “Relevant to today’s war-torn world, The Palace of Illusions takes us back to the time of the Indian epic The Mahabharat—a time that is half-history, half-myth, and wholly magical. Through her narrator Panchaali, the wife of the legendary five Pandavas brothers, Divakaruni gives us a rare feminist interpretation of an epic story” are the words posted on the website of the award-winning author.

Author Usha Narayanan who writes on mythology and romance genre is best known for her novel Pradyumna: Son of Krishna (2015). The summary on Google books about the book reads “As the world trembles on the threshold of Kali Yuga—4,32,000 years of unprecedented evil—it waits for a savior to rise. Meanwhile, in the dark netherland of the asuras, the meek Vama shudders as he learns that he is actually Pradyumna, the son of Krishna. And that his journey has just begun. From the asura kingdom to Dwaraka and then Kurukshetra, destiny forces him to battle monsters, angry gods and blazing weapons, and overpower his own weaknesses. Will he be able to rise to the challenge in time to save the world? Or is he the destroyer prophesied by Narada? Pradyumna is the gripping saga of the rise of this mighty, swashbuckling hero whom all of humanity awaits”.

Other noteworthy books also include Karna’s Wife: The Outcast’s Queen by author Kavita Kane which tells the extraordinary story of Karna, the unsung hero of the Mahabharata, through the eyes of his wife Uruvi who herself is an unsung character in the oft-repeated story of our history. Termed as the “mythological phenomenon” author Kevin Missal’s Dharmayoddha Kalki: Avatar Of Vishnu (2017) is a book based on Hindu mythology that takes inspiration from the life of Kalki, the idea of Kaliyug, and other Mahabharata and Ramayan references. The Rise of Hastinapur by author Sharath Komarraju is delightful storytelling of an imaginary alternate Mahabharata universe. Listed on Amazon.com with the summary “For the story of the Great War is also the story of the women . . .Amba lives for revenge, but circumstances and men conspire against her. Will her daughter bring her the only salvation she seeks? Kunti stakes all to free her brother Vasudev and his wife Devaki. Yet it is the groom-choosing ceremony that will define her life. Gandhari too has come of age, and is faced with a difficult choice: she must marry the blind prince of Hastinapur if she is to save her kingdom from the certain ruin it faces due to Hastinapur’s deceit. In the background, Bhishma pulls the strings, making alliances and marriages, devising new strategies, ever-increasing the might of Hastinapur.” Another captivating read is the story of Arjuna: Saga of a Pandava Warrior-prince (2012) is a book by Anuja Chandramouli where the tale of the immortal Arjuna is portrayed as one of India’s greatest heroes whose story has inspired millions across centuries. The list goes on brilliant books that our authors have written on mythological fiction but for the audience of a past generation, mythological comic book Amar Chitra Katha was as entertaining as the millions churning bestsellers of today!

(Dhiraj Kumar is an author and writer and he is writing his first book. The views expressed are personal opinion of the author. He can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter @authordhiraj.)

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