Monday, August 1, 2011

The Immortals of Meluha - Amish Tripathi -Shiva Trilogy

'The Immortals of Meluha' is the first part of a trilogy, written by Amish Tripathi and re-tells the story of Shiva (Pasupathi) as a great warrior and his ascension to the status of God. There is a virtual gold mine of myths/legends in our country that can be referenced for such books and I have wondered about the paucity of fiction from India which are based on these. This book is probably a sign that Indian writers too are getting to this genre, mixing myths and their own imagination. I have been interested in these type of books (fiction/non-fiction) for long, so when I heard about this book last year, I bought it immediately, but the book left me with mixed feelings.

Amish re-imagines Shiva as the leader of a tribe (Gunas) who are living in present day Tibet, their day to day life being a constant struggle for survival with the other tribes there. Shiva is invited by Daksha, the ruler of an imaginary empire 'Meluha', who wants his help in saving them (Suryavanshis) from the attacks of Nagas/Chandravanshis. It's the done to death concept of a group of people waiting for the chosen one/messiah who will deliver them from all their problems. The people of Meluha have been waiting for one such person who will save them. Daksha apparently thinks that Shiva could be the chosen one, though we never get to know, how he came to that conclusion. The novel details Shiva's arrival to Meluha, how gets his 'Neelkanth', meeting with Dhanvantri, Brahaspathi, Sati with whom he falls in love and decides to get married to her. (Daksha agrees to it after some persuasion). He also leads a battle against the chandravanshis and routs them, taking the king and his daughter prisoners. The daughter tells Shiva, that the Chandravanshis too have a similar legend of a chosen one coming to save them which confuses Shiva. He visits Ayodhya, where he meets and priest and discusses certain things with him. Left alone after that he has a moment of epiphany, where he seems to get a sudden realisation. It is however cut short as Sati is attacked by somepersons and the first part ends here.
As one can see, Amish takes many incidents/people from our myths and tries to give a different spin on them. Ayurvati is some sort of health minister, Brahaspathi is the chief advisor. There is (Veera?)Bhadra, Shiva's friend and skilled in warfare .When Shiva and his tribe are given a potion (some sort of vaccination), his throat turns blue, confirming to the Meluhas that he is indeed the chosen one. The story is fast paced and is a pleasant enough read, but that is as far as one can go in describing this novel. I didn't expect anything like Roberto Calasso's works and I understand that this is only a work of fiction and some liberties have to be given to the writer, but certain things are extremely jarring. The prose in some cases is completely alien with words like 'terrorists', 'Dammit' etc which don't jell at all. (Amish could very well have used Sanskrit words like he has in some other places). I am not a student of History and this is a work of fiction after all, but describing the story of Shiva, many centuries after 'Ram' the king who apparently founded the  Suryavanshi empire? Come on, Pasupathi/Shiva worship has been around for long and at most the Vishu/Rama cult and Shiva cult could have been contemporaries.  Re-interpreting is one thing, but altering the accepted chronology, well it just didn't work for me. (I think he did it, so that he could pitch in the Suryavanshi empire) I couldn't help feeling that Amish missed out on achieving something great here, he had an oppurtunity to create a truly unique Indian epic based on our myths, but ends up short. The amibition/scope is there, but not the execution.

Having said  this, one must agree that these do not impede you while you are reading. Only after completing the book, you tend to think of these things in detail, having a sense of incompleteness and dissatisfaction. At the end Amish gives us an inkling that at some level the chandra/suryavanshis, seem to be alter egos of the others society and Shiva ponders on  what/who is good or evil. This epiphany, what it implies for the future books in the series and the general fast paced nature of the book will make me get the sequel (which I think has been published very recently). However, if you have not read the first part, buy that alone and make your decision, before buying the other ones.
You can get a sneak peek of the books at

To digress a little, a controversial/contested re-imagining of the myths/history is 'The Return Of The Aryans' by BHAGWAN S GIDWANI (also the author of the tv series 'Sword Of Tipu Sultan', two quite diverse works).

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