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Book Review: Ganga: The Constant Goddess by Anuja Chandramouli

River Ganga is the most sacred river of India. She is also worshiped as a Goddess in Hinduism and referred to as ‘Ganga Maiya’ in common parlance in north India.

As per the myths, Ganga is the daughter of the mountain God Himalaya. Some ancient scriptures also say that the water of Ganga was created from the sweat of the feet of Lord Vishnu. Hence, a dip in the holy Ganga bestows helps attain salvation.

The need to bring Ganga to earth arose because of a curse on the dynasty of King Sagar. Kapil Muni, whose intense meditation had been interrupted by the sons of King Sagar, cursed them and reduced them to ashes. Only the holy water of the Ganga could free them from Patal and help them attain salvation.

King Bhagiratha, a descendent of the same dynasty, made it his mission to help his ancestors attain salvation. He underwent rigorous meditation and finally managed to bring Ganga to earth. As per the Hindu mythology, it is believed that when Ganga was flowing down to the earth from the heavens, the pressure of the water was so high that Gods feared that the entire earth might get destroyed by floods. So, Lord Shiva held Ganga in the lock of his hairs and released the water on to the earth in a controlled manner.

Ganga is then led by the Bhagirath to Rishikesh, Haridwar, Prayag, Varanasi, and finally Ganga Sagar, where she meets the ocean, reaches Patal, and saves the sons of King Sagar.

The beauty of Anuja Chandramouli’s book ‘Ganga: The Constant Goddess’ is that she humanises the Gods and Godesses. They are not bereft of human emotions. So, despite being a form of Shakti, she is jealous of her sister Parvati, who becomes the consort of Lord Shiva.

We are all familiar with the story of Ganga’s marriage to King Shantanu, which sets the ball rolling for the sequence of events in the Mahabharata. However, thanks to Anuja, now we know Shantanu was a reincarnation of King Mahabisha, and also gain knowledge about his history with Ganga.

More than anything, what keeps me hooked to Anuja’s books is the writing. The striking prose, luscious description – for example, “the silvery river wound its way sensuously through the peaks, glistening and lustrous as a string of pearls against the blackness of the rocky terrain” – and the free-flowing narrative will never let you lose focus.

Anuja Chandramouli’s Ganga is not just the one-dimensional Ganga Maiya whom everyone worships to cleanse their sins. She is a woman – a free-spirited goddess, who has her way. She is a prolific lover, a fighter and survivor and above-all, Ganga refuses to fit in. That is why Anuja touches upon the recent controversies surrounding #MeToo movement in her own style in this mythological fiction.

The deep philosophy inherent in this book makes it stand out. This is not just a ‘fresh take’ on mythology. No. Anuja Chandramouli, in her own style, has gifted us a new manifesto of feminism. It is also a spiritual guide to life – to keep moving, despite hurdles, come what may, beyond all setbacks. Just like the free-flowing water of the Ganga.

My Rating: 4/5 stars

P.S. The review copy of the book was provided by the author

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Book Review: Ramayana versus Mahabharata by Devdutt Pattanaik

Ramayana, known as the Aadi Kavya (the first poem) is the story of how Ram, the prince of Ayodhya abdicates his claim to the throne, and goes on exile, to fulfil the promises made by his father King Dasarath. During the exile, his wife Sita is abducted by Ravana. What follows is the tale of how Ram rescues her with the help of an army of monkeys, only to desert his pregnant wife later to uphold Rajdharma.

Mahabharata, the longest epic ever written, is a story about family feud. Two clans in the Kuru dynasty – Pandavas and Kauravas – fight over their rightful inheritance. The epic battle at Kurukshetra sees the Kaurava clan decimated. But do these tales follow such simplistic storyline? The version of Ramayana and Mahabharata that we read – are they are real stories, itihasa, as it is claimed?

India’s favourite mythologist Devdutt Pattanaik answers these questions, and many more in his new book Ramayana versus Mahabharata. As he himself claims, this book is his ‘playful comparison’ of the two epics. There is a perception that Ramayana is set in the Treta Yug and is an idealistic narrative. The Mahabharata, on the other hand, is a more realistic tale where rules are meant to be broken – to preserve dharma. Devdutt Pattanaik challenges these claims, and presents his version of events. He even claims, it is possible that the two tracks of events may have happened at the same time period.

Although seemingly different, Ramayana and Mahabharata have several similarities – both the stories involve exiled princes, avatars of Vishnu; both presuppose a crisis of kingship; they are both set in similar geographical terrains; both are composed by witnesses;  both begin with childless king and feature ambitious queens; wives are won in archery competitions in both the epics. The similarities are aplenty.

Ramayana and Mahabharata have their dissimilarities too. In Ramayana, Ram, the avatar of Vishnu is unaware of his divinity; Krishna is well aware of his divine powers in Mahabharata. Ram plays the king while Krishna is kingmaker. In Mahabharata, the brothers are sparring – which forms the basis of the epic; in Ramayana, brothers are loyal and devoted. Pattanaik opines, these similarities and dissimilarities are neither accidental nor coincidental. Rather, these are intended to bring Vedic wisdom into the household.

In short, these epics only reveal that dharma is a work in progress. In Hindu mythology, non-enlightened beings are hungry, frieghtened and restless. Enlightened beings are neither. Dharma cannot be established without empathy, and these epics reveal how both Ram and Krishna struggle in this enterprise.

‘Ramayana and Mahabharata’ is a brisk read. True to his style, Devdutt Pattanaik communicates deep philosophical thoughts with ease, in a ‘playful’ narrative. The short snippets about the epics, little anecdotal references strewn over the places, little pearls of wisdom always make it enthralling to read his books. No matter how many times you read these books, you’d still be left with this question in the end:

Within infinite myths, lies an eternal truth

Who sees it all?

Varuna has thousand eyes,

Indra, a hundred.

You and I, only two.

 

My Rating: 4/5 stars

P.S. This review is part of the Flipkart Bloggers’ Affiliate Programme

 

DISCLAIMER: All Images Used In This Post Have Their Respective Copyrights

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