The beauty in the beast
Published by: Leadstart Publishing Pvt Ltd
Price: INR 250
I have always been fascinated by Hindu mythological characters and stories. This interest was instilled in me by my maternal and paternal grandmothers’ numerous story telling sessions during my childhood. But, contrary to their inclination towards the protagonists of these tales, I was enticed and enthralled more by the anti-heroes—like Ravana and Karna. To me, they were considerably, and sometimes emphatically, more ethical and high-principled than those irrationally hailed characters of Rama, Krishna, and the like.
Asura is a masterful rendition of Ramayana through Ravana’s perspective. Alternate history—the genre in which this book is classified—is about making us question the interpretation of history that has been fed to us, and through this book the author succeeds at doing that.
In the introduction, Anand beautifully explicates the word ‘Dasamukha’ to facilitate your plunge into this familiar but unknown tale of Ravana. The narrative is conducted by two voices: Ravana’s and Bhadra’s. The parts of Ravana’s introspection are brilliant and profound. Bhadra’s part as a common man is invaluable. The story uses the workings of Ravana’s mind to show that he’s not the demon that he has been projected as, but simply an ordinary individual.
Born to a Brahmin father and Asura mother, he is a brash, haughty youngster in his growing years; an ambitious and inspiring figure as a ruler, and a caring and devoted family man. “Rama may be seen as God but Ravana is the more complete man”—this profound thought will perhaps give you an insight into the ten faces of Ravana. The devas, on the other hand, are portrayed as a club of people who apotheosise themselves for a few acts of goodness that they have done.
The book presents an entirely new approach towards understanding these famed epics and makes one wonder if this was how Ramayana ensued after all. The illustrations employed water the reader’s imagination and also evoke empathy.
The point to be noted is, if Ravana had his good side, the devas would have had a not-so-good side to them too. That, I leave for you to read and find out.
The inclusion of geography, and short descriptions of clans and kingdoms of that age makes the unfolding wonderfully convincing and one can’t help but appreciate the attention given in maintaining chronology. There is also commentary on the caste system, social mores, the discrepancies between the social classes, and the treatment of women—which was more just in Ravana’s kingdom, as opposed to that in the devas’. The inclusion of several antiquated tales of Ravana further conjures a craving in the reader’s mind to know more, thus nurturing a genuine interest in the reader for the work. The most endearing central factor of the story is that it humanises Ravana to such an extent that one is compelled to challenge Rama’s divine authority.
Anand Neelakantan has done what has never been done before, in giving us a view from the other side of the coin. Hearing Ravana’s version empowers the readers to evaluate both outlooks and decide for ourselves what is good and bad. The book makes you realise that Ravana is not a villain, but a beast in each one of us. Parallels can be drawn even to our present times, where a discerning reader can easily make out the power structures that rule us, and wish us to know only that side of history which they want us to know.
It is incredible that this is the author’s first work. The book is exhaustive in its research and immaculate in presentation. It is a highly detailed and imaginative work where the reader can visualise the happenings very well. Without doubt, Anand Neelakantan has carved out his own style which is hard to go unappreciated by any lover of Indian mythology.
I enjoyed the book thoroughly and it has augmented my desire to know more about the innumerable anti-heroes in Hindu mythology. I hope more authors venture into this genre and more books get published. Asura—Tale of the Vanquished is a riveting read that will definitely not leave you unaffected.