During the times of the great Vijayanagara Empire, a new form of literature called Prabandha Sahityam came up. Here, the author would pick an event from the Hindu Puranas and then create a story that goes hand in hand with the original one. The plot that the writer chooses would dominate the book without taking away the sanctity or significance of the original story.
Abhaya is Smt.Sai Swaroopa Iyer’s attempt to revive this system and create a modern day Prabandha. Before I speak my thoughts out on this book, I want you to read the blurb.
A tale set in the times of Mahabharata. An assertive and idealistic Princess Abhaya meets the enigmatic Krishna Vaasudeva. A bereaved Dhatri, hounded by her own family is saved by Lord Bhauma. When subverted religion becomes a tool in the hands of power thirsty and strikes Bharatavarsha, the land of Aryas, Abhaya finds herself face to face with the impending doom.
“Can we combat the fear with faith? Can we keep our faith undeterred when the last traces of hope melt away? Can we receive blame and adulation, accept them and yet not give in to them?”
The book starts in the Eastern Hills of Bharathavarsha; a king from these lands is out for a regular temple visit and he and his Senapati save a woman (Dhatri) from what can be a modern day’s equivalent of honor killing. As Dhatri takes her time to recuperate, the author takes us to the western part of the nation where we see a small kingdom Anagha where a nervous King holds his firstborn “Abhaya” for the first time in his hands.
What does fate have in store for these women who come from the two ends of the Bharathavarsha? What are the troubles, travails and moments of triumph that await them? Are these troubles meant only for them or for all the women who stay between the ends of the nation? What is their approach towards life? Where does Sri Krishna come in all this?
While we get all the answers as we read the book, we also get to see what ails the land. Minds steeped in blind faith, unchallenged ideals of patriarchy, religious bigots killing the fundamental freedoms of the people, greedy men who cannot think beyond immediate gains and master manipulators who want to control the entire world.
As we embark our journey with Abhaya and join her in her fights on the ills around her, we also learn valuable lessons in leadership, governance, statecraft, ethics and the ways and means to overcome the moral dilemma that plagues a lot of good brains. We see our assumptions challenged and beliefs shattered, we see a new version of the protagonist and ourselves as we move ahead. To me, these learnings are indeed the USP of the book.
What did Like?
1. The characters, to begin with, awesome is a small word to describe the way the characters have been depicted. I loved the way the author showed different shades of the feminine spirit.
Abhaya — The princess, Dhatri — the practitioner, Subhadra — the diplomat, Kadambari — the troubled lady, Shyeni — the woman with a free spirit, Mrinalini — the loyal assistant, Atulyaprabha — the selfless one and KanakaPraba — a woman who was a little timid. Amazing women from different walks of life but with a single aim, betterment of the world. I thoroughly enjoyed reading about all of them.
2. It is not about women alone, we have some amazing men too, Dharmasena’s wisdom, Mura’s love for family, Vikram’s love for his mother, Vinateya’s love for Krishna and finally Sri Krishna for everything He is. The way the author sketched each of these characters was fantabulous.
3. The conversations. You can’t but fall in love with them. Particularly the ones
between Abhaya and Lord Sri Krishna. Every sentence here means a lot. You come across some fantastic learnings of life. Add to this the soliloquies of Abhaya, and you know you are reading a masterpiece. Trust my words, dear friends; you would end up highlighting many of the lines.
4. The layers of meaning, a keen observer would see layers of meaning in the book. The book is not speaking about the past alone; the author intelligently claims that her brain is set in 2000 BC. No, she is pretty much talking about things happening around us. Do read and re-read; you would realize what she is talking about. One can only commend the author for what she has done.
5. The pace of the story and message. The book challenges our assumptions and forces us to think differently. The book is not a romantic escapade or an action packed thriller. while keeps us at the edge of our seats anticipating as to what happens next, it gives us a message on our own Dharma.
It is a must read. For, as Lord Sri Krishna says to Abhaya,
“It is easy to rebel and call for a revolution. What is difficult is to inspire evolution. That happens with transforming thought, not condemning people, That happens by challenging their thought and not by provoking their egos.”
Abhaya inspires evolution. Do read it.
You can buy the book here.
I grew up with the stories of Tenali Ramakrishna and Sri Krishnadeva Raya. To me, Allasani Peddanna was the famous father like figure in the court, Tenali Ramakrishna was the wittiest man the world ever saw, Timmarusu was the greatest strategist of his age, and Andhra Bhoja Sri Krishna Deva Raya was one of the Greatest Kings of India. In my eyes, Vijayanagara Empire was the “Swarna Yuga” for the South Indians. Most of these stories revolved around RamaKrishna’s wit and Sri Krishna Deva Raya’s largesse and I enjoyed them. I always wanted to know more about the history of this empire and the lives and times of the great kings of Vijayanagara.
I was aghast when I saw that my class 7 History textbook gave only one page to the Vijayanagara Empire. Sri Krishna Deva Raya gets mentioned alongside Harihara and Bukka Raya in that. Like many others, I too did not know much about this empire beyond its founders (HariHara and Bukka Raya) and the man who took the empire to its zenith, Sri Krishna Deva Raya. My curiosity to know more about the empire and my love Sri Krishna Deva Raya were the primary reasons for me to pick the book “City of Victory: The Rise and Fall of Vijayanagara”. Here is the synopsis of the book.
In the year 1336 AD, two brothers Harihara and Bukka Raya, founded a kingdom on the banks of the Tungabhadra River at a place called Hampi. Over the next 3 centuries, it would grow to become one of the mightiest empires in the world, the Vijayanagara Empire. An empire dazzling in it’s achievements, in it’s riches, in it’s arts. From it’s founding, to it’s fall after the Battle of Tallikota to the heights it achieved under Sri Krishna Deva Raya, City of Victory aims to recreate the splendor and glory of one of the most magnificent empires ever.
The book starts by giving us the backdrop of medival India. It starts with the accounts of the Ghori and Ghazni and the defeat of PrithviRaj Chouhan. From there we get to see the slave dynasty, the Khiljis and the plunders of Malik Kafur. Malik Kafur’s exploits down south would mean that Kakatiyas, Hoyasalas, the Cheras and other south Indian Hindu Kingdoms lose ground. The author illustrates as to how people in the south saw the power vacuum getting created and yearned for a kingdom to protect them.
Then we see the way in which Sage Sri Vidyaranya guides Harihara and Bukka Raya in creating the Hindu Kingdom of the south. From here, the author takes us through various Kings and Dynasties that ruled Vijayanagara and made it one of the greatest Kingdoms ever. He describes the administrative policies of the kings, the way they fostered fine arts, the way they pioneered in building impregnable castles and then takes us to Tallikota where the hammer of time grinds the wheels of the Empire to a screeching halt.
What did I like?
1. The research of the author. Many people do not know that three dynasties ruled Vijayanagara. A Telugu man would not know the amount of Kannada literature that came out from Vijayanagara and Vice Versa. The author lists the books that were written by Telugu Poets, Kannada Poets, Tamil Poets and then he again categorizes them by discipline. Books on Advaita Philosophy, Dwaitha Philosophy, Visishtadwaitha Philosophy, Jainism, Veerasaivam, Music, Dance, Astronomy, Science, Mathematics and folklore all get a mention. Kudos to Ratnakar Garu for the research he has done.
2. The book describes the administrative policies of the Vijayanagara Kings very well. This section is a real value add.
3. Usually, books of this sort concentrate on the Empire they describe and its heroes. Here the author presents a good amount of research on the primary opponents to the empire too, The Bahamani Sultans.
4. I loved the unbiased approach of the author. He calls a spade a spade and gives the credit where it is due. He does not make heroes of villains out of the Vijayanagara Kings or for that matter the Bahamani Sultans based on his prejudices. He applauds the Vijayanagara Kings when needed and chides them when they err. He does the same with the Bahamanis too. That’s the USP of the book for me.
5. The Author spoke about the reasons why the empire lost in the battle of Tallikota. He shows us that the signs of decay were there for the people to see. The palace coups, the involvement of sultans in palace politics, nepotism of Aliya Rama Raya and some other grave errors of Vijayanagara Kings were well portrayed. I loved the inferences and insights the author provided.
6. For many people, 16th-century battle of Tallikota was the end of Vijayanagara, loved the fact that Ratnakar Garu traced it till the last ruler, who happened to come in the 17th century.
What did not like?
Tough to tell when I am reading a history book, but I shall try to make a point or two.
1. I read the Kindle version of the book, the pictures that were given were not up to the mark. Most of them are not legible. The Kindle version of the book needs a facelift.
2. We read till Sri Krishna Deva Raya and then read about administration, patronage to arts, etc. Till then, it was mostly about Kings and conquests. In my opinion, it would have been great to have a king, his conquests, policies, and patronage to arts in the same or say succeeding chapters. That would have been a chronological way of putting things.
One word: Must Read.
It is a great job by Ratankar garu, this sort of research and unbiased writing is hard to find. This is the 120th book review on this blog and I have reviewed very few books that are as good and as unbiased as this one. It does not matter whether you are a History buff or not this is a book that you must read. For, as a wise man said: “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”
You can buy the book here.
Please click on the image to buy the book.
Note : This book deals with colonialism. I come from a nation that suffered for 200 years in the hands of British Colonialism, it is almost impossible for me to be unbiased on subject like this. Hence my review might be biased, however that is how I feel and this is my opinion. Request you to read the review with that perspective in mind.
“The white man is very clever. He came quietly and peaceably with his religion. We were amused at his foolishness and allowed him to stay. Now he has won our brothers, and our clan can no longer act like one. He has put a knife on the things that hold us together and we have fallen apart.” These lines from page number 129 of the book have left an indelible impact on me. Before, I delve further, here is the synopsis of the book. (from its back cover)
“Okonkwo is the greatest wrestler and warrior alive, and his fame spreads throughout West Africa like a bush-fire in harmattan. But when he accidentally kills a clansman, things begin to fall apart. Then Okonkwo returns from exile to find missionaries and colonial governors have arrived in the village. With his world thrown radically off balance, he can only hurtle towards tragedy.”
We were told that Africa is a Dark Continent, in our history text books they tell us that Africans were warring tribes and it was the Colonization of Africa that brought some law and order in the place. At times we see people singing paeans about the work Missionaries, and the Colonialists have done in Africa. We do not know as to how the people lived before the advent of missionaries in Africa. How were those people? What was their culture? How did the transformation happen? It would be great to know about these things would it be?
Chinua Achebe in this book “Things Fall Apart” tries to give us a sneak peak into the pre-colonized Africa and the “way things were” before the foreigners went there. The protagonist Okonkwo belongs to one of the African tribes. He makes a name and fame for himself in the society he was living in. Then his life takes an unexpected turn.
As the author narrates the story of the protagonist, he also tries to give us a glimpse of the society its values, its imperfections, etc… A good amount of the book (close to 60%) is devoted to this. As described in the synopsis an unfortunate incident happens, and Okonkwo goes into exile, here we see the missionaries and colonial masters entering this society and the changes that come up due to them. In the end, we see the Old making way for the new and the way the native tribes lose out in the battle for power.
What did I like?
1. This is the first time that I am reading an African Side of things. I loved the freshness the other perspective brings in.
2. The author’s ability to tell so much in so little. The book is hardly 150 pages long, and the author conveys so much.
3. The way the author uses symbols and allegory to get his point through. Consider this statement from Chapter 7 of the book.
“And at last the locusts did descend. They settled on every tree and on every blade of grass; they settled on the roofs and covered the bare ground. Mighty tree branches broke away under them, and the whole country became the brown-earth color of the vast, hungry swarm.”
It’s anyone’s guess as to what the author was referring here. This paragraph comes quite ahead of the advent of the foreign troops yet so much gets conveyed.
4. The portrayal of imperfections. The author portrays the shortcomings of the African Society. The society has good things about it. However, it also has a lot of bad things. The misogyny, the way weakness is naturally attributed to women, women beating and all described in the book. Similarly, the way men or women were abandoned when they come in contact with incurable diseases too speak about the evils that probably existed then.
5. The conversation on God between Mr. Brown and a native priest. That was indeed awesome.
What I did not like ?
I felt too little has been portrayed as a part of missionaries, I felt that it could have been a little more. Enough space should have been given to the other side also. Of the 150 pages, 100 get devoted to the set up, there could have been another 100 about the interaction with the missionaries also.
“The White Man’s burden” as it was fondly called during the 19th and 20th centuries was to civilize the world. Europeans became technically well equipped and they used this power to expand their territories. The imperial regimes and colonial masters left no stone unturned in annexing the countries in Asia and Africa. They destroyed cultures, killed people and imposed their thoughts, views, and religion (most of the times forcibly) on the natives. They called this “Civilizing people” and “The White Man’s Burden.”
In my opinion, the white men were too biased and did not even make an attempt to understand the lives, the culture and the practices of the natives. Due to this attitude many civilizations perished. As the lines in the first paragraph of this review depict, the natives too have a story to tell.
This book gives an opportunity to listen to the other side of the story. That makes the book a must-read. Do read the book.
Image Source :
Before I start my review let me ask you a few questions.
We all know that Shivaji Maharaj was a great fighter, a man who fought and kept Mughals at bay, however, do we know that he is a great administrator too?
Or for that matter do we know that he can rightly be called as the father of Modern Indian Navy?
We all know about Param Vir Chakra and the significance that award carries in India, how many of know about the first man who earned that award with his supreme sacrifice for the nation?
Rana Pratap is a familiar name but how may of us know about Rana Sanga and other Maharanas who ruled Chittor and ensured that the Pride and Honor of Rajputs are held in High esteem.
We all would have visited the sacred Kashi Vishwanath Temple, how many of know about the great lady Maharani Ahilyabai Holkar who constructed it.
How many of know about Lachit and the Ahoms who repelled every Mughal attack and ensured that the Northeast remained Independent?
From Kashmir to Kanya Kumari and from Arunachal to Dwaraka we have our share of heroes who made their motherland proud, who constructed cities, established empires and lived & died for their dharma.
As the author, Sri Ratnakar Sadasyula says, “India is a nation where history literally lies under your feet, where every rock, nook and corner, has a story to tell.”
His book “History Under Your Feet” aims to look at the history behind some places and persons in India.
The book starts with Chatrapathi Shivaji Maharaj speaks about various Maratha rulers, Veer Chatrasaal and then the Ranas of Mewar. From here the author brings us to the modern era where we see the lives of Pritilata Wadedar, Shaheed Bhagat Singh and other freedom fighters before we getting into the details of INA and its heroes. We then learn about the social reformers like Kandukuri Vireshalingam Pantulu, Maharshi Karve and then take a plunge into the lives of Srinivasa Ramanujan and Yellapragada Subbarow. The author closes the book with the hair-raising tales of Indian Heroes in Operation Polo, Rezang La and the Kashmir war of 1947.
What did I like in the book?
1. I loved the research that went into the book. This is not the stuff that you get on Wikipedia. The author took great pains to bring the facts to light. I commend him for doing that.
2. This book covers the events and lives of great personalities in a short and sweet way. The chapters are neither too long nor too short. They are of ideal length, the reader can read them like one chapter a day.
3. The use of simple language. The author uses simple language to convey his thought. This makes the book more readable to one and all.
4. The author does not sanitize history. We see people trying to project one facet of a person and not the other ones. The author discusses the shortcomings of Subhash Babu, the mistakes done by Maharana Sangram Singh etc. If a person took a stand against conversion he brings it to light, I never knew Lalaji took a stand against the missionaries when they tried to use famine aid as a tool to conversion. That part was sanitized from History textbooks that I read.
5. The book instills interest; I now want to read more about Satyartha Prakash after reading about Swami Dayananda Saraswati. The author instills interest in us and then moves on. I loved that approach.
What did I not like?
I am a history buff anything on history is awesome for me. Honestly, I was not able to find any shortcomings in the book.
Please read the book and know about the history of India. I would say please discuss the stories of those great events and great heroes as dinner time tales with you kids. We ought to know about our past; we ought to know about the conditions that prevailed in the country and the way the heroes were born.
We ought to know the hardships that they faced and the way they rose up to the challenges of their times. We the people of Independent India are indebted to our ancestors who fought the tyranny of the invaders from the Middle East and Europe. We ought to learn lessons from history, for, people who don’t learn from history are doomed to repeat it.
Please read this book and also make your friends and children read it.
You can buy the book here.
A Little Background
Sanatana Dharma is rooted in diversity; you can be a staunch Sri Vaishnavaite and be a Hindu, you can be a Shaivaite and be Hindu, you can follow the Advaita Vedanta of Sri AdiShankara and be a Hindu, you can be a follower of Dvaita Vedanta and be Hindu, you can follow a Guru who follows Sastra Pramana and be a Hindu. Moksha, the ultimate Aim of Sanatana Dharma, can be obtained in any of these ways.
Since this religion is different from the religions that follow one God, one book, one Prophet and only one way to salvation, there are many people in the west who do not want to call this a religion. There are many people who want to see this religion disappear from the globe. They want this culture to get fossilized and forgotten. Now some of them have started accusing Swami Vivekananda of manufacturing Hinduism. What makes the matter worse is the fact that some are using teachings of Adi Shankara, concocting and misinterpreting them to come up with a preposterous claim that Swami Vivekananda came up with a new religion. This book is a rebuttal to all the people who question the inherent Philosophical Unity of Hinduism. Here is the synopsis of the book.
Synopsis of the book
Defending Hinduisms Philosophical Unity, it is fashionable among intellectuals to assert that dharma traditions lacked any semblance of unity before the British period and that the contours of contemporary Hinduism were bequeathed to us by our colonial masters. Such arguments routinely target Swami Vivekananda, a key interlocutor who shattered many deeply rooted prejudices against Indian civilization. They accuse him of having camouflaged various alleged contradictions within traditional Hinduism and charge him with having appropriated the principles of Western religion to manufacture a coherent and unified worldview and set of practices known today as Hinduism. Indras Net: Defending Hinduisms Philosophical Unity provides a foundation for theories that slander contemporary Hinduism as illegitimate, ascribing sinister motives to its existence and characterizing its fabric as oppressive. Rajiv Malhotra offers a detailed, systematic rejoinder to such views and articulates the multidimensional, holographic understanding of reality that grounds Hindu dharma. He also argues that Vivekananda’s creative interpretations of Hindu dharma informed and influenced many Western intellectual movements of the post-modern era. Indeed, as he cites with many insightful examples, appropriations from Hinduism have provided a foundation for cutting-edge discoveries in several fields, including cognitive science and neuroscience.
The book starts with the Purva Paksha where Rajiv Malhotra explains the myths that need to be challenged. Some myths that are widely in circulation are
(i) Hinduism is manufactured
(ii)Hinduism doesnot have any coherence
(iii) Hinduism is founded on oppression
(iv) Seva (service to others) is a concept that Hindus adopted from the west
(v) Yoga was not treated as a path to salvation by Hindus and Hindus copied it from western science etc ..
Then he brings to light the stands taken by various Western Indologists. He speaks about the arguments of Paul Hacker, Agehananda Bharti, Ursula King, Rambachan, Richard King, Brian Pennington, Peter Van der Veer, Sheldon Pollock and others. He speaks about the hidden agenda and the larger picture that comes from it.
The way the works of these people support each other and the way all of them overlook a lot of historical facts are brought to light in a systematic way. The author dwells on “Anubhava” Vs “Sruti Pramana” in these sections. We get to see wonderful arguments in the offing when we read about Rambachan, the position he takes on Swami Vivekananda and Rajiv’s argument that expose the fallacies in Rambachan’s line.
The second part of the book deals (Uttara Paksha) brings to light Rajiv ji’s full-fledged rebuttal to the Western Indologists. Rajiv ji brings to light the pre-colonial unifies of Hinduism like Vijnanabhikshu. He attacks the lies that the Indologists present and propagate regarding Seva, altruism and Yoga, Adi Shankara’s position on Yoga. He even gives references where the West incorporated ideals from Hinduism (particularly regarding Seva etc.), and it was not the other way round.
The author presents numerous examples of the way Shankara did respect yoga and way both can complement each other and help a sadhaka in the path of Liberation. The way Shankara’s work is presented deserves a special mention it is very well researched and well presented.
The author then moves on to give a framework in which Hindu thought can dwell and empower itself. The open architecture, the common tool box, the poison pills, porcupine defense and Astika -Nastika distinction are proposed by the author as a way forward for all Hindus.
What did I like ?
1. The extensive research and the way the problem and solutions have been described.
2. The Purva Paksha, most of us don’t read about the way in which Hinduism is being targeted by various groups, we fall into the trap of believing every argument that
comes our way, more so, if it comes from a westerner. Rajiv Ji shows us the double-sidedness of some of these Western intellectuals.
3. The open architecture, Poison Pills, and Porcupine defense. Rajiv Ji does not leave it with questions, he gives a lot of answers, and that is important. I loved the way he gave answers and strategies to save our religion from digestion.
4. The concept of Indra’s Net itself where everything is in itself the whole and also the part of it. That’s a fantastic concept that I did not know before.
What did I not like ?
1. I did not read the book “Being Different” till now. In fact, this is the first book of Rajiv Ji that I read. Many a time he refers to what was said in Being Different, this made reading a little tough for me.
2. This is purely my personal problem; I was not able to read Purva Paksha. All those arguments against Swami Vivekananda were things I could not digest. As I was reading those pages, I was praying for them to be over and was wanting Uttara Paksha to start. Probably the Hindu in me was finding all these things unpalatable.
A must read for all Hindus. Please read the book. We ought to know the games of these Western Indologists and the ways and means in which our Dharma is being attacked. Digestion is one of the biggest threats to our religion today. The Open Architecture, the poison pills and porcupine defense are indeed innovative methodologies that Rajiv ji proposes.
You might agree with Rajiv Ji or you might disagree, however, the threat we Hindus are facing from these academicians of the west is real. We ought to wake up and think of ways and means to counter it. This book serves as a good starting point.
Please do read the book, you would have done yourself a great favor by reading this book.