Mahabharata , the great epic , is impregnated with so many sub-stories that it would not be an exaggeration to say that it might take a lifelong read to absorb all the intriguing incidents and their inter-connections. And it is a story of women , women with sharp minds , great political vision and bodacious beauty to allure men of high stature making them mere marionettes . Sharath Komarraju , in his book The Winds of Hastinapur , has woven a story picking two not-so-focused female characters from Mahabharata , Ganga , the mother of Bhishma and Satyabati , Bhishma’s step-mother.
It was this unique characterization that first attracted me to read this book. For we all know , that the most powerful female character ancient Indian literary works has ever witnessed is, Draupadi , who was indirectly or directly responsible for the Great Battle of Kurukshetra and thousands of books ,dramas, verses have been written taking her as the protagonist. But Sharath’s delineation started from the very beginning of the story , at that point of time when the seed of the Great Battle was just sown . When the mighty AshtaVasus robbed Nandini , the heavenly cow of Sage Vasishta and his wife Arundhati and were eventually cursed to take birth on earth . It was then that Ganga , was chosen to be the mother of all eight of them and was sent to earth to marry Shantanu , the king of Hastinapur . Among the eight , all seven were supposed to return to Heaven soon after their birth as Ganga dropped them in the river but the eighth , who was cursed to live a long mundane , monotonous life as an earthling , survived and known as Debabrata or Pitamah Bhishma .
Sharath Komarraju has made this familiar story-line a smooth concoction of mythology and fiction. The so-called Gods and Goddesses like Vishnu, Indra are depicted not with reverence but they are very much affected by mortal negativity like jealously , envy and slyness. They are shown to have negative skills which they often used to achieve their ends. The concept of Heaven has been described as a place , Meru , where everything was under control , even the natural forces but even then it had to depend upon earth for some essential everyday supplies. Thus the vulnerability of Meru has been projected. A plausible explanation has been given for the ‘ immortality ‘ of the inhabitants of Meru . The concept of Crystal Lake is based on the law of Conservation of Energy and that everything maintains a perfect balance in the universe.
The Asuras (demons) are named as the Mighty Ones or Dark Ones and the concept of Amrita ( elixir of immortality) along with the myth of Vishnu’s Mohini avatar has been depicted in an interesting manner. Sharath has established the concept of one and only God , Devi Bhagawati , who maintains an eternal balance throughout the universe and that the concept of Karma , what goes around , comes around .
What I like most in the book is the way the characters of Ganga and Satyabati has been portrayed. Ganga , the Lady of the Lake , full of motherly virtues and emotions never wants her son Debabrata to lead a cursed life on earth. But she is helpless as “The line of men was always measured by the father . Yes , the mother bore him, fed him, carried him, reared him, but it was the father whom the son ought to follow ” .
On the other hand Satyabati or Kali has been shown as an independent , intransigent woman with great ambition and political vision. From the daughter of the head of a clan of fishermen , she raises herself to the seat of the Great Queen of Hastinapur , queen of Shantanu. Not only that she also makes it that her line of descendants are to be crowned as kings instead of Debabrata , the son of Ganga. Not only that , she coerces all the needed facilities for her clan , all those privileges from which the fisher-people are shunned so far . Satyabati here , is a pragmatic , matter-of-fact woman . The crux of her character is her foresightedness and practical wisdom. She knows what she wants in life and achieves it . She never repents on losing her virginity and believes that virginity is “ being pure in thought and action , being unafraid as long as your emotions have nothing immoral about them ; and taking pride in the gifts that the gods have given you , and spit back on the shame that the world insisted on heaping upon you ” . Quite a feminist attribution , I must say .
Thus , these two women contribute in their own ways to the story and the prelude of the Great Battle is created with the birth of Dhritarashtra and Pandu , along with the son of waiting-maid Subha ( who would later be known as Vidura ) grandsons of Satyabati .
The author has made earnest attempts to weave the story of the ‘winds’ of Hastinapur with his own imagination and explanation and has done a commendable job. To some the story may look incomplete but I must remind you that with the birth of Dritirashtra, Pandu and Vidura , a new era begins in the epic…the era of Bhishma , the era of Gandhari , Kunti and Madri. I hope Sharath Kumarraju would like to fascinate us with the stories of these female characters in future.
The book is recommendable to all who keep an interest in mythological fiction. Being an ardent fan of the epic , Mahabharata , I have greatly enjoyed the book.
From my side it’s 4/5
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About The Author
Sharath Komarraju lives in Bangalore with an ever-swelling stack of books that threatens to one day swallow and digest him. On a typical day he spends nine hours testing software and two writing fiction. (He’s currently engaged in a top-secret plan to reverse that balance.) In his free time he can be found either hunched over his laptop, talking to his wife, or munching on roast almonds – or doing all three at once, if the day’s good for multitasking.The Winds of Hastinapur is his third novel, after Murder in Amaravati (Amaryllis, 2012) and Banquet on the Dead (Westland, 2012).
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