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The Rise and Fall Plotted

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The Rise and Fall Plotted

The rise of hastinapur

Author -  Sharath Komarraju

Publisher - Harper Collins, Rs 299

Refreshing portrayal of mythological figures like Amba, Gandhari, and Kunti, a deeper analysis of their male counterparts, and reinterpretation of boons and curses in The Mahabharata make this book a must-read, writes SHWETA DUSEJA

The Rise of Hastinapur is Sharath Komarraju’s second book in the Hastinapur series. As the title suggests, the novel expands on the story of Hastinapur’s rise to power. It is divided into three major sections. The first one focuses on Amba’s life, the second on Kunti’s and the third on Gandhari’s. It is in no way chronological. The stories of these women are the three parallel strands that lead to the rise of Hastinapur and its ultimate fall.

The author reconstructs the lives of these three women in his epic fantasy. Amba, who has been wronged by Bhishma, burns in the fire of revenge as in the original narrative. But, this novel imagines her life after she has exhausted all her options to seek revenge on Bhishma. Kunti, whose life centres upon that of her husband and children, is shown as a strong woman capable of independent thinking. Gandhari, the devoted wife who does not wish to see the world her husband cannot see and thus volunteers to blindfold herself, is the queen who is ready to do anything to save her kingdom and her people from slavery.

All three women are full of strength and resilience. Each of their fight is against a man. Amba who seeks help from several men to seek her revenge finds that no one but she can defeat Bhishma through her anger and hatred. She passes on her enmity of him to her daughter who will ultimately kill him on the battlefield. No man could have fought her battle. Kunti also realises she cannot rely on her father or her foster father to rescue her brother, Vasudev and his wife, Devaki. Even Surya deceives her to fulfil his own purpose. She still does not give up her mission despite several obstacles and plans to save their child who would be the instrument for Kamsa’s death. Gandhari, in the face of deceit at the hands of both the celestials and Bhishma, does not lose the strength of her character and plans the fall of Hastinapur.

Even the male characters in the book are shown in a new light. Kamsa, who has an image of a ruthless king in the popular imagination, is shown as a loving brother and son. Although he imprisons his father and sister, the text indicates that he does it out of extreme fear. He wishes to live and conquer. We do not see his side of the story which could tell us whether he is guilty of his actions or not. But, there are glimpses in the novel which point out his helplessness and desperation to save himself. Bhishma, who is the image of selflessness, is seen as a scheming patriarch who cares for nothing but power. In his bid to gather the alliances of many kingdoms, he knowingly harms and hurts several women. His actions lead to his fall.

Apart from recasting the characters in a new mould, the plot also has significant changes. The Mahabharata is a war-epic. Komarraju reinterprets it not as a war between the cousins (Kauravas and Pandavas) for power but as the suppression of the ultimate power of the earthmen by the celestials. In that sense, it is a war between the men on earth and those on the mountain (Meru, the abode of the celestials). Bhishma, who is half celestial being the son of Ganga (river goddess) and Shantanu (king of Hastinapur), rebels against the celestials and leaves the mountain to earn glory on Earth. Since, he has been trained on the mountain and has drunk from the Crystal Lake (which rejuvenates life and makes one invincible), he becomes the strongest and the most powerful warrior on Earth so much so that even the gods are scared of his might. As a result of which they plot the ultimate downfall of the kingdom of Hastinapur. For that purpose, they use various men and women from the mountain and the Earth to accomplish their task. It is a war of the mind played by the celestials against him that Bhishma is not familiar with till the end of his life.

What is most interesting about the novel is the reinterpretation of the boons and the curses.Vasishtha cursed Dyu, the eighth Vasu for stealing his divine cow, Nandini. He was reborn as Bhishma to live as an earthman. However, Komarraju reimagines the whole episode (at least in this book, there is no mention of the curse on Bhishma) and shows that Bhishma rebels against the celestials and decides to inhabit the world of the mortals. Brihaspati even chastises him that the men on Earth will tear him to pieces but he does not pay heed to that. His rebellion against the gods and the quest for power on earth leads to the rivalry between the celestials and Bhishma.

Gandhari’s boon of the foresight and Kunti’s boon to invoke any celestial to sire sons on her also find reinterpretation in The Rise of Hastinapur. Gandhari is dragged into the war against Hastinapur and is given foresight by the Lady of the River, Ganga to further the cause of the celestials while in the original narrative, she is showered with the boon for her devotion to the blind king, Dhritarashtra. Kunti gets the boon (in the novel) for the very same reason as Gandhari, that is, to bear children of the celestials who would ultimately be on the other side of Bhishma in the battle and defeat him. In the epic, Kunti is blessed by sage Durvasa for her devotion who showers on her the boon.In the larger scheme of things, the reinterpretation of the boons and curses works to establish the rivalry between the gods and the mortals and lead to their eventual destruction.

Overall, The Rise of Hastinapur is a great pick in the epic fantasy genre. It must definitely be on your reading lists if you are one of those who love reading epic retellings.




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