The series is a collection of 6 books written by Ashok Banker. The first in the series is Prince of Ayodhya.
Rama, Lakshman and other characters of Banker’s “Prince of Ayodhya” aren’t demigods or incarnations of the one true God . They are teenage boys , born into a royal family facing a grave threat of invasion. The invading hordes are Asuras (Rakshasas) headed by the dreaded demon lord, Ravana. 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 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 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.
We Indians, as children, all read Ramayana (by Valmiki) which is pretty much one dimensional. In Valmiki’s Ramayana, there were the Princes Rama & Lakshmana – exiled from Ayodhya, Sita (Rama’swife and 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 by Ashok Banker describes, in contemporary language, how two normal boys are able to take on the demons who are powerful magical entities . Banker adds so much more: he develops the characters beautifully , the inter-personal relationships are fascinating, the social and cultural backdrop is described beautifully, and the introduction of various minor characters enhances the richness of the tale. Another thing that makes Prince of Ayodha great is the side stories of deceit and intrigue within the Royal household which will eventually lead to Rama & Lakshman’s exile. 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.
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.
Banker has a few inconsistencies in his novel but I overlooked them because the narrative is so engrossing and fast paced. Besides, they are nothing major that impact the outcome in any significant way.I believe , in ancient epics there’s no sense in which there’s an “official” version. Which means that all you can do is to enjoy each retelling on its own merits. If you take this attitude, rather than constantly wondering if a particular plot element was “really” part of the Ramayana, you’ll thoroughly enjoy Banker’s version!
It’s so well put together that I really could not stop reading. There are other books in this series like, ” Bridge of Rama”, “Armies of Hanuman”, “Demons of Chitrakut” , “Seige of Mithila”, and I can’t wait to read them..
This review is part of “South Asian Author Challenge 2010” and “Once Upon A Time : The Journey”.