Book Review : Prince of Ayodhya - Ashok K. Banker  

Posted by CK in , ,

And another book done. And this time, I finished it in record time, I'm proud to say. I completed the 500-odd pages of Prince of Ayodhya in one day. I started the book in the morning on the bus ride to work and was done by the time I hit the sack later that night. I read it at lunch, in the loo, on the bus ride back and any other spare moment I got. And the reason is, for the first time in a LONG time, I just couldn't put the book down. It was brilliant. It took me back to the days when I read The Lord of the Rings for the first time. I used to read it in class, during lunch, in the loo (yes, that's where the best reading is done). The writing was brilliant, the subject riveting and the characters, real and relatable. "How," you might ask, "are characters from a 3000 year old epic relatable?" To which I would say... READ THE BOOK. No, really. It was a contemporary look at the legendary classic The Ramayana. Ashok Banker took a few liberties, sure, but then again, who doesn't? And the result is a story that is gritty, full of adventure, fantasy & drama with just the right mix of mythology thrown in.

Now, I'm a huge mythology fan and right up there with the Greek and Roman, are the Indian myths. Our pantheon of a few hundred million deities gives us a lot to read and write about and the Ramayana is a good vs. evil story with a punch.

Rama, Lakshman and other characters of Banker's Prince of Ayodhya (PoA, for short) aren't demigods or incarnations of the one true God (not yet, anyways). They are teenage boys (around 15) born into a royal family facing a grave threat of invasion. The invading hordes are Asuras (Rakshasas) headed by the dreaded demon lord, Ravana. This book reminded me so much of LOTR which is probably why I'm fawning over it so much. Like Sauron, Ravana has been marshaling his forces to overrun the Arya Nations (Indian kingdoms) with a demon horde the likes of which has never been seen. It's up to Rama and his brother, Lakshman who are princes of the Suryavansha royal house to go out there and start the process of opposing him. The Asura Wars (like the Last Alliance of Elves and Men) was when Ravana was defeated by the current ruler of Ayodhya the Unconquerable, King Dusserutha. He is now old and about to announce Rama's ascension to the Sun Throne when Guru Vishwamitra (not unlike Gandalf and the Ishtari) comes to warn Ayodhya of Lanka's plans. The Gurus, Vishwamitra and Vashishta are two of the Seven Seers. They are sages of supreme power who have control over the magic of the Universe (called Brahman) and able to channel these energies to achieve the pinnacle of knowledge through penance and are almost immortal. They guide the princes on the path of righteousness that will eventually lead to victory.

I've read the original Ramayana as a child and it was very one-dimensional. There were the Princes, exiled from Ayodhya, Sita (Rama's love) gets kidnapped by Ravana who desires her and they raise an army and go get her back (and kill him, as a matter of course). This book describes, in contemporary language, how two normal boys are able to take on the demons who are powerful magical entities (not unlike Orcs). Another thing that makes PoA  great is the side stories of deceit and intrigue within the Royal household which will eventually lead to Rama & Lakshman's exile. But that's much later. We have very realistic characters like Kausalya (the first Queen) and the King and they're all normal people who feel lust, pride, joy, sorrow, envy and rage. They aren't all perfect versions of humanity who have only righteousness in their hearts. They've made mistakes that they regret, they feel anger and betrayal and the whole gamut of human emotions that the previous telling of these epics lacked. 

DISCLAIMER: I've read one of the million abridged versions out there, so the version I've read might be one-dimensional. I'm sure the original Sanskrit telling must have had all the things I felt my version lacked.

Now, for my favorite part. Indian myth has always had great potential for brilliant stories, granted that the person deals with them in a way that 21st century people can understand. Banker does just that. He says that like the age old tradition of honor, the princes are bound to Dharma (one's obligation in respect to one's position in society). They must, as princes of the royal house and being Kshatriyas (warriors), fulfill their destiny and duty in fighting the scourge that will soon cover the land in darkness. He brings old traditional sentiments and makes them very relatable emotions of today. He also infuses into the story at appropriate points, the stories of Hindu mythology, like the marriage of Shiva and Parvati, Kama's Folly, the stories of Lanka just to name a few.

I'm told Banker has a few inconsistencies in his novel but all that's forgivable because the narrative is so engrossing and fast paced. Besides, they are nothing major that impact the outcome in any significant way.

It's so well put together that I really could not stop reading. I'm going to have to get the next book right away. 

This entry was posted on Monday, December 14, 2009 at Monday, December 14, 2009 and is filed under , , . You can follow any responses to this entry through the comments feed .


I haven't read this book yet. So, can't comment.

Yes, our epics are filled with metaphors, examples, symbolism, et al... most of which are not understood very well. Debates are raging to this day.

December 16, 2009 at 11:57 AM

'Avatar' is a must watch!

December 22, 2009 at 8:51 PM

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