Title: Asura: Tale Of The Vanquished
Author: Anand Neelakantan
Pages: 504 pages
Plot: 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.
Favorite Quote: “I had lived as Ravana and I would die as Ravana. I did not intend to become Rama, the perfect man and God. There was no dearth of gods in my country. It only lacked men.”
Thoughts: This book has been on my TBR for a long time. I love reading retellings of old age epics from different perspectives. It is always intruding to read a story from the voice other than the one popularly heard. ‘Asura’ is a retelling of Ramayana from Ravana’s point of view. I was sold by reading the premise itself. I had to read it.
In this book we follow two protagonists, Ravana, the great evil king, savior of Asura race and Bhadra, a loyal servant of Ravana. The book is narrated from both their perspectives. We follow Ravana from the time he was an angry child to the time after his death. We follow Bhadra from the time his village was attacked by the Deva warriors until the end of the book. The story is something that every Indian has been hearing since the childhood. But what sets it apart is the perception and a little twist added by the author.
The book justifies Ravana’s action and treating Asuras as the oppressed and Deva’s as the oppressors. I must say the author to quite an extent achieved this. There were parts where the plot of original epic is really challenged so brilliantly that it is almost believable. I am talking about the part where Ravana’s and Sita’s relationship is concerned. (I don’t want to give out spoilers so this is all I will mention) It is well narrated with an explanation that actually makes sense.
I literally had a love-hate relationship with this book. There are parts that I absolutely loved reading and parts that I didn’t. My favourite part of the book is where Ravana having ten heads is explained and the part which proves that Ravana is more human than Rama. I thought the book was too lengthy and at times the dialogues and descriptions too. I had to read this book taking a lot of breaks because it was difficult to read it at a stretch. The flow of the book was patchy and writing inconsistent.
Overall, I would say the premise was well carved but the writing could have been better. I would suggest you to read this book in breaks and only if you love reading retellings where villain is portrayed the hero and his actions are justified.
PS: I loved the cover!