Book Review: The Aryavarta Chronicles, Book 1: Govinda

Just finished reading the last page of the book: The Aryavarta Chronicles: Govinda (Book 1) by Krishna Udayasankar. Coincidentally  she is from the garden city-state of Singapore where I live. Maybe, in the next Singapore Writer’s Meet, I might get to meet her if she comes to the function. And before I start reviewing the book, thanks to a very good friend of mine who got this book for me, in fact gifted it to me. Else I might have missed this wonderful mythological fiction, one of my favorite genres in reading.

Off late there has a been a flurry of book on our Hindu Gods—you have Shiva or Rudra depicted in the most human fashion by Amish (The Shiva trilogy), then a series of fictional books on Rama and Ayodhya and now Krishna Udayshankar’s Aryavarta Chronicles. All I can say that the Gods would definitely be pleased!

Coming back to the book—from the title you can make out that the central figure of this book is Krishna or Govinda Shauri, as referred in the book. So what is the most striking feature of this book; and I would say the premise. The book treats the main characters as mere humans and not some divine figures.  The author does a great justice by deglamorizing these eminent characters of Mahabharata, who are so far we have always revered and treated them as divine figures in human form. Another thing that highly pleased me was the treatment Krishna Udayasankar has given to characters like Shikandin, Panchali, and Duryodhana. I have read many version of the great epic called *The Mahabharata*, but never I have found so much importance given to Shikandin as the author has given in this book. In most places, Shikandin is treated as a trans-gender, but here the author treats him as a brave and fearless warrior on par with Govinda, who is misunderstood by many others, including his father. Similarly, Duryodhana is not projected as the quintessential bad guy, but rather a logical and rational person, who is torn by fate and duty. Panchali or Draupadi is an important character in this book. There are few women that compete with the beauty of Draupadi; all those that met her adored her. Her beauty was so great that she delighted all of the human senses. Alf Hiltbeitel states this of her beauty: “The very sight of her was magnetic due to her irresistible beauty and fragrance” (Hiltebeitel 267). Panchali’s beauty would gain her much attention, but it is her ability to balance her beauty with the desirable traits of a wife that gain her such devotion. Panchali possessed the desirable traits of many women, and was able to use these traits to influence and control. Panchali had a great understanding of the balance between being bold and forthright, and being submissive and dutiful. The author also beautifully narrates the mystical and lovely relationship that Panchali has with Govinda. There is devotion, there is love, there is pain, there is care, and there is suffering for their souls in that relationship between Sakha and Sakhi.

Now coming to the plot; it is about the rivalry and fighting between the Firstborns and the Firewrights. The Firstborns are the scholars and sages, who are descendants of Vasishta Varuni and so-called protectors of the Divine Order on Earth. The Angirasa families of Firewrights are an ancient order of scientists and inventors who wear mixed colors, descendants of the Bhargavas.  Set in ancient India, in lands lost in the mists of antiquity, religion and history; these books form a saga of Epic India -before time and language transformed tales of flesh and blood, into mythical, larger-than-life accounts. In Udayshankar’s Aryavarta, the most powerful state is Jarasandha’s Magadha. Hastinapur is shown as a vassal of Magadha. Govinda Shauri is a cowherd, who takes the remaining Yadus from Mathura and moves to a distant land and were he builds the glorious Dwaraka. The rivalry and fighting between the Firewrights and the Firstborn dynasty is a thread which runs through this book and as Book One comes to an end, stays alive to continue into Book Two. There are many examples in this book, where the author has taking a tangent from what is most read about these incidents. For example, when Yudhistira is coroneted the Empire of Aryavarta and the First Honor is giving to Govinda; at that time Shisupala raises his objection and throw expletives at Bhishma and Vyasa for their foolery. In most cases, it is shown that Krishna or Govinda brings out his *Sudarshana Chakra* and beheads Shisupala. But in this book, the author shows them as equals and there is a word fight and the best man wins. Off course it is Govinda who ultimately triumphs. In this way, Krishna Udayshankar paints all her characters in grey, which essential means that both the good and the bad resides within us rather than portraying extreme goodness or badness of a character.   This is an excellent book that combines fiction with mythology and adds the mystery element.

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