ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Anand Neelkantan was born in the Trippunithura village, on the outskirts of Kochi, Kerala. He grew up listening to anecdotes from the Ramayana and felt more drawn to the villain of the scripture, Ravana, and his people, than to the protagonist, Rama, and his allies. Anand is an engineer and works for the Indian Oil Corporation. He was inspired to tell the story of the vanquished tribe of Ravana, which is different from the one narrated in Valmiki’s Ramayana, whose different versions are prevalent in different countries across Asia. He has authored many other books based on the Indian scriptures.
Asura is the tale of Ravana and his people. Most of us are familiar with the story of Ramayana, the fight between the good and the evil and how Rama triumphed over Ravana. However, in this novel, Neelkantan narrates the story from the perspective of Ravana, the evil demon of the Ramayana.
The book starts with a detailed description as to why Ravana was portrayed as a ten-faced demon. According to the author, Ravana was a complete man, who embraced all the base emotions of a human being and was eager to deal with whatever life threw at him.
The story is described from the viewpoints of two people – Ravana and Bhadra. Ravana narrates the story of his life, from the time of his birth to the hardships he faced in his childhood days and how he ultimately ascended to the throne of Lanka. Bhadra is a common man of Lanka. He narrates the stories of the ordinary people of the Kingdom and how they viewed the decisions of their King.
The story picks up from the conclusion of the epic Rama-Ravana war. Ravana awaits his imminent death and finds himself face to face with the ill-effects of war. He remembers what he did to the defeated kingdoms when he emerged victorious in the wars against them. The terrified people of his kingdom await the same fate. He recalls his childhood struggles and the glimpses of his life as death slowly begins to engulf his soul.
Ravana is portrayed as a half-Brahmin and half-Asura fellow, who is not treated well by his father. He leaves the island of Lanka and comes to India, in search of a guru to guide him in the right direction. However, in the process of describing the hardships faced by Ravana and the other Asuras, the author suddenly contracts the notoriously common anti-Brahminical syndrome. He portrays them as villains, who performed meaningless yagnas and rituals. He describes the Devas and the Asuras as normal people of two civilizations. Neelakantan further contends that these two civilizations repeatedly clashed with each other for kingdoms and glory. He describes Shiva as the king of an Asura tribe, Brahma as the guru of the tribe, and Vishnu as the God created by the Brahmins.
The author touches upon many unknown aspects of Ravana’s life, such as his childhood struggles, his training with Mahabali, his different roles as a soldier to a king and eventually an emperor. He also describes Ravana’s relationship with Sita and Vedavati, and how Ravana brought her back to his kingdom. The story is refreshing in that it is different from what we have heard and read. It surprises the readers with unknown stories, though not without going overboard at times.
The paperback version of Asura: Tale of the Vanquished consists of 498 pages. The book is divided into 65 chapters, each one dealing with a different aspect of the life of Ravana and Bhadra. The map of ancient India, provided at the beginning, makes it easy for the readers to identify the different locations mentioned in the story.
Asura: Tale of the Vanquished merits a two-star rating. The novel is interesting at the beginning, but drags toward the end. The author miserably fails to come up with a proper characterization of the protagonist, Ravana. At times, he is described as a great king while at others, he is dismissed as a schizophrenic and fickle-minded person. The author appears to be obsessed with people’s race and skin color and portrays all the white-skinned Brahmins, or Aryans (?), as evil people. The novel, which starts as a tale of the losing side’s side of the story, ends up censuring all other civilizations. The author gives the impression of being misinformed at best and biased at worst, and ultimately ends up providing distorted notions of the Ramayana.
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