By Krishna Udayashankar. Aryavarta Chronicles #1. Grade: A
—Reviewed by Anuj Sharma –
At the young and naive age of six, my grandmother got me married. Yes, a child marriage, and since then the Mahabharata has been my better half. Most of my basic understanding of Indian mythology came from reading the Amar Chitra Katha as a kid, and eventually it exposed me to whole world of stories based on history and mythology and evoke my innate love for them. The Mahabharata, the second major Sanskrit Epic of ancient India (the other being the Ramayana) is a complex book to read, and so, naturally, it is one of my favourites. This book comes with a big question attached as a tagline: a debut novelist attempting to retell an epic like the Mahabharata: Would she deliver?
HONOUR. DESIRE. VENGEANCE. Aryavarta – the ancient realm of the noble. For generations, the Firstborn dynasty of scholar-sages, descendants of Vasishta Varuni and protectors of the Divine Order on earth, has dominated here. For just as long, the Angirasa family of Firewrights, weapon-makers to the kings and master inventors, has defied them. In the aftermath of the centuries-long conflict between the two orders, the once-united empire of Aryavarta lies splintered, a shadow of its former glorious self. Now, the last Secret Keeper of the Firewrights is dead, killed by a violent hand, and the battle for supreme power in the empire is about to begin. As mighty powers hurtle towards a bloody conflict, Govinda Shauri, cowherd-turned-prince and now Commander of the armies of Dwaraka, must use all his cunning to counter deception and treachery if he is to protect his people and those whom he loves.
But who holds the key to the fantastic and startling knowledge of the Firewrights, which in the wrong hands will bring doom upon the empire? And does Govinda have it in him to confront the dark secrets of his past and discover the true meaning of being Arya, of being noble?
You might feel you can predict the plot, but you actually can’t. It opens with a conquest of a princess in a parched landscape in an underlying tone of writing that is perfected to the minutest detail. Udayshankar has employed excellent literary devices and umpteen characters in her novel that makes it a bit bulky and slows the pace but in a scholarly manner.
With her bold and enticing writing, Udayshankar has managed to bind all the characters in her story in a way that makes it clear, easy and special. It is swiftly revealed how character has an important part to play. We are introduced to the Firstborn Dynasty of scholar-sagas who are descendents of Vasishta Varuni and protector of the Divine Order on the Earth. They rule and control functioning of the planet. However, after centuries-long conflict, they are dethroned by the Firewrights, who are an ancient order of artillery scientists and inventors .
This consequence relation leads to falling apart of the once united empire of Aryavarta. The plot grew more gory when the last secret keeper of the Firewrights gets killed by a violent hand. This makes the rivalry and fighting between the Firewrights and the Firstborn dynasty take some bitter turns. Govinda Shuri, a cowherd turned prince and Commander of the armies of Dwarka – and is a master of strategy, statecraft, tactics – plots a sharp political plan which takes a political milegae by aligning with Pandava (Pandava in turn are denied throne of Hastinapur by Dhuryodhana on extremely untenable ground that their father Pandu was an impotent) against his arch-enemy Jarasandh who is politically aligned to Dhuryodhana.
Govinda is not a mainstream version of the epic tale; the main characters in the book are not divine. They are mythical characters, but ordinary all the same. Udayshankar has stripped them of their magical powers. Perfectly fine, the basic principle of Mahabharata is to teach us that at times, rules need to be bent, and sometimes dharma lies in achieving the ends, even if the means are secondary, and Udayshankar’s Govinda reinvents Mahabharata and reveres a story that does not derail from the core plot and is interesting enough that you cannot really put it down until the last page has been turned.
An absolute lavish feast of well-researched mytho-history work that has comprehend the heights and depths of the longest Epic ever.
Udayshankar has been able to weave a charm that is essentially grand and sublime stream of experiences in his evocative new dark take on the Mahabharata. The book is eloquent, yet not high handed; it is scholarly, yet not conceited. The retelling of the epic from an alternate perspective of the great Epic is intriguing . The way this book has been written is really commendable.
Kudos to debutant Krishna Udayshankar who has chosen to take the road less traveled and the ending prepares the reader for the second book and I’m definitely going to be reading that one soon. Expectations to next installment are pregnant with obvious adventure.
About the Author Krishna Udayasankar is a graduate of the National Law School of India University (NLSIU), Bangalore, and holds a PhD in Strategic Management from the Nanyang Technological University, Singapore, where she presently works as a Lecturer. Govinda is Krishna’s first published novel. She is currently working on the second and third books of The Aryavarta Chronicles and a collection of prose-poems entitled Objects of Affection. A resident of sunny Singapore, when she’s not busy writing and teaching, Krishna loves to watch Rajinikanth movies first-day, first-show, complete with applause and whistles, and to go on long drives with her husband, Jai, and two Siberian Huskies, Boozo and Zana.