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 had never been told. Asura is the epic tale of the vanquished Asura people, a story that has been cherished by the oppressed outcastes 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 when that Ravana, by one action, changes the history of the world.
Over the centuries, there have been various versions of the Epic Ramayana. Debut author Anand Neelakantan has delivered us with a very refreshing new look at it with his novel ‘Asura’.
The story starts at the point where Ravana is defeated in his battle with Rama and is waiting for death to take over him. Then the story then goes back to Ravana’s childhood and then progresses thereon. It’s almost like a Biography of Ravana that is narrated alternately from the Demon King and Bhadra’s point of views. It was exciting and mesmerizing to meet a poor and ambitious boy who fights his way to ascend to the throne. He seemed more like a common man, with his share of mistakes and darkness in him, than an antagonist who deserved to leave behind a legacy that still has us burning his effigy. The other voice in this novel of Bhadra, a common man, with an extraordinary life. He is probably the most significant insignificant character in this storyline.
‘Asura’ manages to paint a picture in front of its readers that shows that Ravana, in fact, was more human than we imagine. He isn’t the larger than life persona with ten head on his shoulder, instead he is an ambitious person backed by the support of many people. He initially had the best in his mind for his subjects, but power brings corruption with it and like most people we know in the position of power, Ravana too fell for it. Also, I must warn that not all believers of Prince Rama will like this book. Every picture has two sides and this story is told from the opposite end of Rama and not everything we see will paint a pretty picture.
The author’s style of narration is flawless and loved his way of incorporating known information in a new light.
I have to admit that I have often wondered whether Ravana was this big-bad villain that Ramayana made him out to be. The reason being simple enough, even after kidnapping Sita and keeping her captured for so long, Sita’s honour was never compromised. That’s more than what we can say for most men of our generation. On the other hand, Rama is unable to trust Sita on her return as he believed that she had betrayed him which ultimately resulted in Sita taking the ‘Fire Test’ to prove her innocence. I can’t be the only one to have noticed the irony and the unfairness of the situation. I guess that made it easy for me to accept Asura’s story that so much easier.
The author has managed to put a forward an amazing rendition of the epic with finesse and amazing twists.
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