Mythology is a genre I’ve grown up reading, and hearing, thanks in no small part to my grandmother. The tales of monarchs & avatars, and devas & asuras are still vivid in my mind. Two tales that have managed to keep me engrossed as well as make me thoughtful are that of the Samudramanthan, churning of the ocean by devas and asuras for the nectar of immortality, Amrit; and the tales of Vikram-Betaal. I’ve wondered how the former brought out even divine beings like the winged horse, Ucchaishrava or the white elephant Airavata; and the latter of course, made me contemplate the answers to Betaal’s questions before Vikrama answered them. It was with much eagerness that I stepped into a tale woven combining the two events — The Guardians of the Halahala, by Shatrujeet Nath.
The Halahala is the deadliest poison, one that was trapped in the ocean and was let loose during the churning, consuming the world before Lord Shiva consumed it, making his neck blue and saving the world from destruction. The premise of the first book in the Vikramaditya Veergatha is that an asura took part of the deadly poison and hid it in a dagger, which Lord Shiva then confiscated from him. He gives it to Samrat Vikramaditya and his Council of Nine for safekeeping. The asuras and devas, both realizing the importance of the Halahala, try to get it from the “human” king, waging war on Avanti.
From the get go, this is an engaging story. The premise itself manages to pull the mythology lover in me to read on. And the treatment meted out to make this tale seem possible, is fascinating, maybe nothing short of brilliant. The sheer number of characters that are present in this book would feel overwhelming to keep track of but for the narration, which makes me enter the story itself, and become part of it, feel the emotions what the character feels. I feel the chills imagining the damru when Lord Shiva reveals himself to Vikramaditya; I feel the trust, even in some nervousness, when the Council of Nine are determined to help Vikramaditya defend Avanti and the dagger; I feel the helplessness that Vikramaditya feels each time Queen Vishakha comes close to life and goes away. I can imagine the war scene standing on top near the archers, as the Ashvins challenge them, and I can imagine the Hellfires. Even the terrifying look of the asura Andhaka can be imagined with ease. I loved the appearance of Betaal in the story too, and in a way I hadn’t expected. If this battle between Manava, Danava and Deva holds interest, another equally engaging angle is that of the battle between Sindhuvarta and the rising, returning Hunas and Sakas. This part is less explored, but I liked the character of the commander Atulyateja and the innovativeness of Councilor Amara Simha in dealing with the situation and the egotistical governor Satyaveda as well.
The flipside for me is three-fold. The first is that I didn’t find the parts with the kingdom politics interesting at all. The treachery of the Kingdom of Magadha in not aiding Sindhuvarta after Shoorasena takes over, or the war they wage on Vanga citing their support for a Kikata uprising against Magadha doesn’t feel needed for this part of the book; however I do understand that looking at the series as a whole, this may make sense later. The second is that each chapter in itself has the story from many angles, which needs time to adjust to, and confuses me initially at least. While I wish that this could have been done in a better manner, I again accept that the second book might have to go in the same style. The third, and most important flipside, is that this book ends so soon, and the next book doesn’t release for quite some time. The wait between books is bittersweet, especially if the first book is of a high standard.
From the cover design, to the story idea, the narration and the characters, this book marks the start to what I feel is a very promising series. And it builds an expectation of the author that the second book is as fascinating as this one. Four fabulous stars I give to this fabulous fantasy fable.
|Title: The Guardians of the Halahala||Series: Vikramaditya VeergathaTrilogy #1|
|Author(s): Shatrujeet Nath||Genre: Mythology|
|ISBN/ASIN: 9788184956382||Publisher: Jaico Books|
|No. of Pages: 428||Price: Rs. 350|
(© 26th January 2015)