Thursday, September 19, 2013

Book Review: Asura - Tale of The Vanquished by Anand Neelakantan

On the jacket:

The epic tale of victory and defeat… The story of the Ramayana had been told innumerable times. The enthralling story of Rama, the incarnation of God, who slew Ravana, the evil demon of darkness, is known to every Indian. And in the pages of history, as always, it is the version told by the victors that lives on. The voice of the vanquished remains lost in silence. 

But what if Ravana and his people had a different story to tell? The story of the Ravanayana has never been told. Asura is the epic tale of the vanquished Asura people, a story that has been cherished by the oppressed castes of India for 3000 years. Until now, no Asura has dared to tell the tale. But perhaps the time has come for the dead and the defeated to speak. 

“For thousands of years, I have been vilified and my death is celebrated year after year in every corner of India. Why? Was it because I challenged the Gods for the sake of my daughter? Was it because I freed a race from the yoke of caste-based Deva rule? You have heard the victor’s tale, the Ramayana. Now hear the Ravanayana, for I am Ravana, the Asura, and my story is the tale of the vanquished.” 

“I am a non-entity – invisible, powerless and negligible. No epics will ever be written about me. I have suffered both Ravana and Rama – the hero and the villain or the villain and the hero. When the stories of great men are told, my voice maybe too feeble to be heard. Yet, spare me a moment and hear my story, for I am Bhadra, the Asura, and my life is the tale of the loser.” 

The ancient Asura empire lay shattered into many warring petty kingdoms reeling under the heel of the Devas. In desperation, the Asuras look up to a young saviour – Ravana. Believing that a better world awaits them under Ravana, common men like Bhadra decide to follow the young leader. With a will of iron and a fiery ambition to succeed, Ravana leads his people from victory to victory and carves out a vast empire from the Devas. But even when Ravana succeeds spectacularly, the poor Asuras find that nothing much has changed from them. It is then that Ravana, by one action, changes the history of the world.


I remember being 3 and owning my first book on Ramayana, an illustrated book. I absolutely loves tales of Hindu mythology and having watched Ramayana on the telly, the story is vivid in my mind. Interestingly, when I was pretty young, my mother had told me, not to be too influenced by the story as it is one sided and Ravana, though being wrong, was a very learned man and had reasons for being who he was. She'd told me, there is a lot that one can learn from Ravana, about grit, determination, faith, hardwork and knowledge. And, he was a man of honour, he did kidnap Sita, but never compromised her honour. Ever since, I had tried to read about Ravana but didn't find much. Until I read Asura.

Neelakantan has, in a very flawless and smooth manner, portrayed the other, humane side of Ravana, the person he was - albeit being the demon king. The story begins at the point where Ravana has lost to Rama and then goes to the past and begins from Ravana's childhood. How a simple person progresses to someone evil, when power gets to his head. 

A very well researched book, if you are a staunch believer of Rama and don't entertain reading good about his enemy, you might not like this book. But, if you read this book with an open mind, you will love it. At no point is Ravana being glorified or Rama defamed, this is a simple story from the point of view of the defeated. 

The book is elaborate and while reading there were lot of events which I decided I would talk about, when I write my review, but then I would have to replicate the entire story. 

I urge you to read this book, give it time, not only to read a wonderful story, but ... to know that Ravana was another character in Ramayana whose flaws were glorified and strengths underplayed. There is much to learn from him, know about him and once we know him better, Ramayana as a story, is way more clear in the mind.

Rating: ****.5/5

[This review is for Leadstart Publishing. The opinions are strictly my own and not been written under any obligation.] 

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