Storms ruled the first thousand years of life.
By the time I claimed my room, I turned into a zombie...
Suspended somewhere between the worlds within and outside...
Vaguely aware of either...
But then, existence needs more meaning, and spectacles need a windowpane...
Right here, I found mine…

Who am I? An average woman - trying to work on my share of maze through layers of haze...

Monday, December 03, 2012

The Immortals of Meluha: Extrapolating the Grains of Myth


“Finally crossed the barriers of distaste caused by the 'thrust-it-on' promotional drive and the ill-designed cover page of 'The Immortals of Meluha' to take the first look at what lay inside...” – I posted on Facebook the day I chose to check for myself whether it was marketing gimmick alone that made Ameesh Tripathy’s debut work an overnight bestseller.

And bang came the first comment that buttressed my skepticism - “Antara my dear, it’s a disaster, I fell for this deal and ordered both ‘The Immortals of Meluha’ and ‘The Secret of the Nagas’. The first book made me ‘LOL & sob’ at the dialogues and quality of the language used…”

Well, now that I’ve completed the book, I’ll rather liberate myself from evaluating it on the basis of its literary merit. To me - ‘The Immortals of Meluha’ owes its phenomenal success to a GROUND-BREAKING IDEA, teeming with ingredients to sell like a hot cake – of course, with the right visibility. It’s an idea trivialized by a quality of language so mediocre that the book risks being dismissed by serious readers; but an idea bolstered by marked originality, ample drama, and of course unforeseen promotion – so that it was readily lapped up by the film makers of prominence. The book, for all its appeal, cannot be called a worthwhile piece of ‘literature’, and yet for me - it has been quite a read that has significantly influenced my attitude towards history, religion and mythology.

Uh, just to provide a background on that last sentence - as a schoolgirl, history to me was EVERYTHING an undesirably imposed burden of a curriculum could be! Armed on one hand with chronological charts listing the dates of many a battle fought by many a ruler often for no good but expansion of kingdoms, and on the other hand with exam questions that invoked neither analysis nor imagination but plain memory power – history made the classic case of rote learning. What made it worse for me was the fact that the history of my country hardly brought women into the ambit of its limelight. The simple fact that the world didn’t bother to document the names of daughters in the lineages of the ruling dynasties never failed to irk me.  So for all that mattered to me, I’d have nothing to do with the past and it could be happily buried away into oblivion! 

What about religion and mythology? Well, the way I saw it – religiousness, backwardness of thoughts, superstitions, fasting womenfolk reciting ‘pnachali’-s for the ‘good’ of their family, over-glorification of traditions, and opposition to female emancipation– all walked hand in hand. I wanted to DROWN THEM FOR GOOD in the Mariana Trench of my apathy!

Now, being the religious illiterate that I’ve always gladly been, a book from the religion-meets-history-meets-fiction genre HAD to invoke in me either disgust or curiosity. ‘The Immortals of Meluha’ swam its way to the second group, and yes, there are reasons for that. It’s a work that endeavors to pick up the grains of centuries-old Hindu mythology, look at them with GENUINE interest through the lens of RATIONALISM, root them in the Indian prehistoric civilization, color them with the paintbrush of vivid imagination, and weave them back into a captivating tale.  Ameesh, notwithstanding his linguistic poverty, rocks at that!

To elaborate, that a newbie author DARED to reconstruct the Trinity (Brahma, Vishnu and Maheshwara) as mere mortals – is an attempt worthy of applause in itself. It’s quite a bold trespass into a world way too vague, shrouded by millenniums of sedimentation of superstitions and religious sensitivity. And as I said earlier, Ameesh has more than that up his sleeve. He visualizes Shiva as a tribal chief from the vicinity of the Mansarovar Lake in Mount Kailash, Tibet – and makes him enter from outside what historians term as the Indus Valley Civilization. And mind it, this version of the Indus Valley Civilization (or the land of Meluha – as Ameesh calls it) is one superimposed by the Hindu notion of Rama Rajya – a near perfect empire, advanced in architecture, science and general intellect - where the rules of Lord Rama are the law of the land. Slowly and deftly, Ameesh extrapolates the well-known elements of Hindu myths and the archaeological data about the prehistoric civilization of the subcontinent to create the stage for his play – an India a thousand years after the birth of Rama – a world of mortals out of whom a few extraordinary ones, by means of their deed, will be later worshipped as Gods. Meluha is brought to life not only by the vivid description of the city’s planning and constructions, or the insights into the sociopolitical wisdom of Lord Rama, but also by the very tangible mentions of Sati and Daksha, Nandi and Brahaspati, the Nataraj and the Neelkanth, the Somras and the Trishul.

What Tripathy’s tale did to me on a personal level is - it made me view religion and superstitions from an alternate standpoint that goes well beyond the debate whether they, in their current forms, serve a purpose but for promoting social regression. I learnt to see them as integral products (and by-products) of the human march towards knowledge and civilization – of which an individual can witness just a thin slice in the tiny span of life. It developed in me this newfound respect for subjects like history and archaeology – not only because the study of the past provides us a perspective to the way things are in the world we inhabit today, but also because mankind has already been through diverse socio-religious, administrative, philosophical and political experiments, and their results have been put to the test of time. We can’t AFFORD to lose the wisdom we’ve already gained as a species. That a seemingly innocuous difference in the value systems (say - ‘Satya Dharma Maan’ of the Suryavanshis vs. ‘Shringar Saundarya Swatantrata’ of the Chandravanshis) of races arising from the same blood and soil can result in an ever-widening fissure of hatred and enmity – should carry a significant message for our divisive politicians. 

And as I thought of it probably for the first time ever, I couldn’t but develop this overwhelming awe towards the relentless efforts of the human to form a better race. 

Why, we’ve tried time and again to visualize an ideal society and to define the ideal behavior of its men and women. We’ve invented and theorized God – sometimes as a tool of unchallengeable authority and mass control, often to end anarchy and stabilize the society, to draw faith from in moments of collective or personal crisis, and also to find solace in the frightening meaninglessness of existence where the end of a life, howsoever goodly or evilly lived, is rewarded with death. 

The theories have been accepted, have won hearts, stabilized, degenerated, been taken advantage of by the power-hungry, been replaced through revolutions, and a new theory has emerged to suit the need of the ages. In order to eliminate threat to hard-earned social stability, we’ve marginalized in the name of God the ones whom we didn’t know where to place in our vision of the perfect social machinery. Sometimes the differently-abled (say - the Vikarma-s of Meluha), sometimes the hermaphrodites and the homosexuals, sometimes the widowed womenfolk and sometimes innocent children born to castes deemed lowest in the prevailing hierarchy have had to bear the brunt.  Rules initiated with the best of intentions have been, in the course of time, either overridden in favor of better social justice, or – more often than not, hijacked for worse. 

The questions that inevitably arise at this point are – why, in spite of centuries of experiments, we humans are yet in no position to boast either of large-scale social stability or of continually-improving moral integrity? Why our parameters of advancement are so heavily biased towards technological feats that they’ve stolen the focus from sociopolitical research – although unfair wealth distribution, communal hatred, crime and corruption burn us every day? 

Where did the tool of religion go wrong? What did we do to the principles of Lord Rama, Buddha, Muhammad, Christ or Guru Nanak? If making the world a more harmonious place to live in has ceased to be our priority, what is their relevance in our lives today? Have we reduced them to mere symbols of ritualistic worship – just for the sense of ‘belonging’ that a communal identity brings to us?

Probably the most profound takeaway value of ‘The Immortals of Meluha’ arises from its portrayal of the early signs of degeneration creeping into the Rama Rajya – which makes us contemplate on some of these questions. The caste system favored by Rama, as Nandi informed Shiva, was purely merit-based, where the caste-members could be selected solely through a standardized examination system. Also, to ensure equal facility to each Meluhan child, Rama is said to have introduced a Maika-Gurukul system by virtue of which each infant would be adopted by the society and reared equally while their parental identity would always be a state secret. However, as the book depicts - a few hundred years later, the merit-based caste system gave way to the birth-based caste system that continues to devastate India till date, and the children born to the nobility were exempted from the Maika-Gurukul system. The Meluhans, being strict rule followers, continued their proud adherence to the caste system as the established norm of the land - without realizing that, in its modified form, it would be slow poisoning the fair and just society visualized by Lord Rama. They couldn’t see the inherent injustice in it – which Shiva, being an outsider, readily could.

The issue seems to lie with the fact that – whenever mankind has had a prominent leader capable of guiding us to a better life, we’ve called him an INFALLIBLE savior. We’ve placed the burden of all our thoughts, queries and troubles on him – and have relieved ourselves from the responsibility of being thinking individuals. Our leaders have had lofty visions for humanity and we’ve refused to compliment them in making their visions come true - for we’ve proudly groomed ourselves into total conformity and been reluctant to go beyond the sentences they’ve literally uttered.  We’ve never quite understood the need to focus instead on the essence of their teachings. 

The question is – why is it necessary for us to place our leaders on a platform so raised that they’re beyond the reach of a common man’s doubtful glance? Why do we need our teachers to be rendered extraordinary by something other (e.g. a prophecy or some other form of Divine sanctity) than the merit of their vision and work? Why do simple teachings aimed at betterment of humanity ultimately become Godly theories fighting for supremacy over each other? Obviously because that’s the most sure shot way to heighten their impact and ensure mass following. But then the downside is that, by doing so, we alienate ourselves from these lessons to the extent that we lose the sense of what they’re directed at – and we shudder at the ‘blasphemous’ thought of discarding and rethinking segments of them to suit the need of the times. Over a period of time, the meaning dies out, the mass dies out; the carcass remains as a rigid set of rules to be taken advantage of by the hardliners and the power-hungry – at times contradicting what the preacher originally may have had in his heart. 

Through his tale of the metamorphosis of Shiva into the Mahadeva, Ameesh proclaims that no social system, howsoever perfect it may appear, can ever be trusted to be stable enough for us to be complacent and stop thinking. A system rather NEEDS to be questioned to stop it from degenerating. Over the generations outlooks change, and so do moralities. The strength of a society, therefore, lies in its flexibility rather than rigidity; in its realization of the INTENTION of its rules; in its ability to ABSORB a bit of waywardness from the rebellious.

Books of this genre, I believe, are the need of the day – for they may help the world see religions and religious diversity as matters of great interest and study, rather than of fanaticism and fight. Now that our religious institutes are no longer patrons of science and progress, now that our intelligentsia are hardly the men of religion, now that we’re equipped enough to see through the irrationality of superstitions, it’s time that we dare to discard from our religions what’s unnecessary and extract the priceless silt of wisdom they’ve accumulated across the ages of flow of humanity. 

Okay, that’s it for the day! Hoping to see some gripping messages coming from Ameesh in ‘The Secret of the Nagas’ as well. So long, dear reader, do let me know your feedback on this post, for the next best thing to a resonating voice is that of a genuine critic :-). [ By Antara Kundu ]



  1. Devapriya0079:23 AM

    I think you should take up writing seriously!you always encouraged me in school...I loved your blog.

    1. So glad to hear the words of encouragement, ma'am :-). The thing is that, I can hardly make time for a single blog post every month - which I had set as my target at the beginning of this year :-(. Hope I'll manage to extract some more free time in the coming year :-).

  2. Chandresh11:56 AM

    I don't know if I can call this a micro-blog (as your profile states), but now I know what to expect in the book. Not sure if your writing is intentionally catchy or genuine, but liked it. You could turn a writer someday and I'd purchase my own copy.
    The only line that was out of place (which broke the flow for me) was "Okay, that’s it for the day!".

    1. Whew - that's a comment I really liked :-). I somewhat realized that the line mentioned by you IS breaking the flow - but it was 1:30 in the night when I decided to wrap it up (I had threatened myself with dire consequences unless I published it yesterday itself :p) - and was too sleepy to work further on that glitch. But I'm kind of delighted that it struck you - I often feel that the amount of work I put into each sentence goes unnoticed and wonder whether it's worth it.

      And this is not a micro blog :-). By the word 'micro-blogging' I meant tweets and FB status updates. And huge thanks for that 'I'd purchase my own copy' compliment :-).

  3. I'll admit, i was quite judgmental, considering some of the reviews I have read. But lesson learnt, and might I add that reading your blog is a pleasure in itself..
    I'm getting mine too, deal or not.
    No matter what drips from your pen, you always make it not just palatable, but particularly pleasing too...
    And no matter what you like to think of yourself, be it "A senior software professional working in the IT-Telecom sector" or "An average woman", I'm sure you know that this is also something that you could consider and enjoy doing.
    Keep it up and awaiting many more of these (in)sights from your window..

    1. With the kind of exposure you have to quality reading material, you've every right to be skeptic about 'The Immortals of Meluha' :-). Going by the language quality of this book, Ameesh is yet to mature as an author. Hope the bestseller status doesn't make him complacent. And in fact, that's partially the reason why I didn't go for a 'Book Review' and focused instead on the central idea and the thoughts it triggered in me :-).

      And your compliments - wow, they're so warm and encouraging. Thanks! And guess who's the one who'd be waiting MOST eagerly for Ratna Ray's own blog?

  4. I enjoyed reading your comprehensive and thoughtful review of this book, and shared it with my 22 year old son, who is very interested in Hindu mythology. As someone who isn't religious, views the concepts of "greatness," "infalliblity," "society," and "systems" with skepticism, and agrees with your assertion that we must never stop thinking and questioning, this trilogy sounds intriguing.

    1. Many thanks for your time and encouraging words Helena. This blog comment is particularly special for me as it syncs with my mindset :-). Interesting to know that your son is interested in Hindu mythology. But mind it - 'The Shiva Trilogy' is more of a work of fiction which plays with some elements of mythology and history.

  5. The link to a 'resurrected' discussion thread on this post:

  6. What a wonderful article! And how well you write!

    It takes an immense amount of energy to trigger me to comment on posts, blogs or anything online, but after this post I was reading your articles one after the other, and I had to comment.
    For someone who writes so extremely well, you write appallingly less. :)

    By the way, this may not be the most apt way to say Hi, but I am a good friend of Riddhiman's and I remember him mentioning you sometime ago. Apparently, we'd all joined TechM as ITPians in 2006. Hi.

    1. Hey, you must be Anupriya, right? Riddhi has mentioned you many a times and I think its wonderful to have an friend-cum-editor like you :-). Many thanks for your compliments. Yes, I often feel like making myself 'stand-up-on-the-bench-with-one-leg-folded' for not being able to manage a few more posts a year, but time's an issue and I've a lazy brain :-(.

  7. As usual, your writing style is brilliant. You did not only analyze the aspects of the book, but put forward your own thoughts on it, as is expected from a thinking individual like you :)

    Now first of all, I will talk about my personal prejudice about literary quality. To me, richness of literature is extremely important. I am a bit apathetic to the general decline in literary beauty of many contemporary works. Having said that, all style and no content is equally disgusting. If this book gave someone like you, such food for though despite it 'literary poverty', as you mentioned it , I am for it :).

    It is indeed a need of the time to take a glance the roots of the teachings of ancient religions and their proponents, as well as the ancient texts, simply in order to understand the vast displacement of our current religious beliefs and values from what they originally intended to be; often to the extent of contradicting them(as very aptly pointed out by you). From this perspective, Ameesh's effort certainly deserves applause, since I cannot think of any other book written in English that took up such a subject. In that way it would have a greater readership among young Indians, which is an absolute necessity.

    To me history was a fascinating subject, probably because the richness of the textbooks, written by prominent historians like Romilla Thapar, Arjun Dev etc, used in our CBSE curriculum. As for mythology, its fantasy elements held a huge attraction for me as a child. But as I grew up, I started to perceive the teachings in the Puranas, The Ramayana and The Mahabharata. They are a treasure-house of socio-political, moral, and above all philosophical knowledge. I am still in the process of digging more into them. And now, Ameesh's books would be added to my list for in order to enrich my knowledge, as well as for the purpose of comparative study with the original texts, to find out how much has Ameesh conformed to the original teachings and how far has he improvised in order to set up a better societal model(which is indeed a very important aspect)

    Finally, thanks for taking out time to acquaint us with such revolutionary works, to put them forward in the correct perspective, in your effluent language. Keep it up :). Will be waiting for the next installment :)

  8. Anonymous8:38 AM

    You really make it seem so easy with your presentation but I find this topic to be really something which I think I would never understand.
    It seems too complex and extremely broad for me. I am looking forward for your next post, I'll try to get the hang of it!

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