I’ve become somewhat picky with the books I now choose to read. Much of it is due to the fact that I barely have any time to read and review as quickly as I would like, or should. I am behind on so many. But when I discover an unexpected plot or a cover I am drawn to, I cherish, savor and try to mentally review as I read.
The cover of this book is insanely mysterious, simultaneously alluring and serene. The concept – sheer genius ( I have always wanted to explore and write about Hindu mythology – I’ve never had the courage to take on such a sacred task) the author Amish is spectacularly talented in crafting a story that explores the journey of a man whose humble beginnings are only a precursor to his destiny. Although it is purely fictional ( and must be remembered when reading) it is beautifully punctuated with truth, identity and divinity. I sat in an odd space of holding on to the extraordinary details of the birth of what we now call the Indus Valley Civilization and a profound curiosity about a man/ warrior/ god, who unifies, destroys, loves and dances.
Shiva isn’t awakened. Not yet anyway. A tribal leader. Strong, honest and young, he is every bit a warrior. His tribe, the Gunas, are his primary responsibility. They battle day and night, exhaustively, with the Pakratis who hunt them. He leads with his mind and body. Yet, there is an implication that a greater responsibility awaits him. None of which he understands until he is shown a different path, a new land and home – Meluha – which he finds quite alluring and inviting. There, he learns of his destiny.
Shiva’s destiny as it is introduced to us, is quite a tall order. After all he is just a man. Or is he? he is challenged by a deeply wrought out inner battle about his role as not just an extraordinary human, but a god of gods – A Mahadev. All because it is in his karma to be so. He is a foreigner, baffled by the Meluhans claim that he is their Neelkanth ( blue throated one). Their savior.
The legend of Shiva’s blue throat is somewhat changed in this story, but keeps with how the author intends the character to be perceived. How does he choose the right path? One that fits with Meluha’s ideal of god, of savior and destroyer of all evil. The author is beautifully descriptive about Shiva’s turmoil. Shiva finds the idea of devotion to who he is, strange, to say the least. He is extremely reluctant to accept a godly role just because legend dictates he will save India. He is a simple man. He does not understand blind Meluhan faith. In fact, he seeks, even prefers the skeptics and those who keep him grounded because he seems to be the biggest skeptic of all.
Meluha – the area of Western India and Pakistan- can only be described as near perfect and heavenly. In law, in war, in engineering, in design, architecture, medicine, the arts – just about everything is systematic and well planned. It is a city ruled by the Suryavanshis – descendants of the sun. They blame the Chandravanshis – descendants of the moon – for conspiring against them with the Nagas( who are considered evil). It makes sense to us that the sun and moon must balance each other out. It does not to the parties involved. The author does well to get this message across. The name Meluha exists because the Sumerians called it so. I learned this from my daughter who studied ancient history a few months ago. I didn’t know this. So, um, she felt quite wise at this point. We read the book together. It was quite an experience for I feel I know Hinduism well enough to see where the author took the story. She, studied Hinduism for a year-long thesis like project at school. It was a renewal of our love of mythology and a deep respect for a living religion that made it exciting for us.
Back to Shiva…
The author quite cleverly weaves into the story a supporting cast of familiar names from the life of Shiva i.e. Nandi the ever-present and loyal friend, Veerabhadra, Brahaspati – the latter in mythology is sort of the Hindu aspect of Jupiter. A teacher of the gods – cast as a scientist and good friend to Shiva in the book, he takes on an important role. The god Brahma appears in name only as does his consort Saraswati – she is the mighty river that sustains the sun and the moon. However, it is the Meluhan relationship with the seventh incarnate of the god Vishnu, who appears throughout the book as Ram – known in mythology to be the king of kings and the ideal man and husband, that makes the story interesting.
The Meluhans based the running of their empire on the dharma or word of the great king Ram. The character of the Meluhan king Daksha and his daughter Sati who are important to Hindu mythology are created in roles of power and powerlessness. They appear in an unusual twist. She is the princess of Meluha, He is the emperor. She is a Vikarma. An untouchable.That the law even exists is preposterous to Shiva. He is completely and utterly besotted. He cannot touch her, although a foreigner, he is now a god. If he does, he must undergo a purification ceremony. It is her Karmic destiny to be an untouchable. Sati is, by all accounts, Shiva’s consort Parvati – the divine goddess. I loved how human and compassionate she was in this book. She isn’t perfect at all, although her beauty is. She is flawed because of her karma or so the story says. And yet, she is everything we expect her to be. She is the ultimate warrior princess and holds her own in battle, although there is an immense sadness about her. Their chemistry is so palpable; Shiva’s heart is already Sati’s even before she acknowledges it. He can’t exist without her. She consumes his thoughts, his life, but he does not impress her as easily and is quite the nuisance at first. I found parts of their journey unique.
What I like about this book is that Amish paid homage to the Hindu pantheon by making them accessible. He asks the question – if they were humans, filled with human weaknesses, who battled inner demons, who were vengeful, loving, filled with greed for power but then became gods, would we understand them any better? He certainly tells a brilliant story about a step by step process of achieving the divine and extending their mortality, because of their karma. I was drawn to that premise from the beginning. That Shiva was just a man who was destined to become a supreme god, could be anyone’s destiny. It was climactic, a complete page turner and quite the twist on what we know about this living religion. I do understand why the book was poorly acknowledged and why traditionalists call it disrespectful. But it is a work of fiction and the subject matter is fascinating. I found the plot to be complete and well thought out, It kept me guessing. I can forgive the clichés, and there were quite a few. The language didn’t always suit the era and the phrasing was sometimes repetitive. However, I am a huge fan of début novels. I often try to walk in the author’s shoes because I’m in awe of their skill. If the novel is compelling enough, words come alive and speak to me when I read. I know just how difficult it is when the concept is so grand and the responsibility so tremendous, that to paint a beautiful canvas of mythology and history as accurately as one can, requires quite a bit of artistry. I found the book incredibly satisfying.
Book – The Immortals of Meluha By Amish Tripathi
- Westland ltd. India
- 415 Pages
- First edition 2010
- ISBN: 978 -93-80658-74-2