Mahabharat (aka Mahabharata) is definitely one of the best (if not the best) epic ever known to the mankind. It is rightly said that almost every situation, every problem, every feeling we can possibly face in our lives, are present in it. Probably that is why people (especially with Indian roots) are so fascinated with it.
In the true Bharatiya (that is Indian) culture people tend to explore the inner journey more than the outer one. Considering the soul as immortal they are quite fascinated with the elements of life beyond and after birth and death. They wanted to explore the things in the larger context. That’s why Dharma is Sanatan for them and Dharma is also another name for Yama, the God of death. And, that is why the original book, in which the Mahabharat is a segment of a much longer story is named Jaya – victory over one’s self, rather than Vijaya – victory over the other.
Not only the readers but also the writers are in love with this great epic. It would not be wrong to say that every author who grew up hearing stories from Mahbharata dream of re-writing one version of it from his/her vision. For example, Late Harilal Upadhyay (a Gujarati author) have tried to stick to the original popular version of Mahabharat in his Mahabharat book series which is comprised of 7 books.
Here are some other books based on Mahabharat we’ve got a chance to read recently and found them worth sharing with you all.
- Jaya : An Illustrated Retelling Of The Mahabharata | Book Review
- Corpokshetra: Mahabharata in the MBA Yug by Deepak Kaul| Book Review
- Barbarika by Hariharan Raju | Book Review
- Ashwatthama’s Redemption: The Rise of Dandak by Gunjan Porwal | Book Review
- BHIMSEN by Prem Panicker | Mahabharata As Bhim View It | Book Reviews
|Book Title||:||Shikhandini: Warrior Princess of the Mahabharata
|Publisher||:||Leadstart Publishing Pvt Ltd (14 October 2019)|
|# of Pages||:||
2206 KB 232 (Kindle EBook)
|# of Chapters||:|
Adding to the list is, Shikhandini: Warrior Princess of the Mahabharata by Ashwini Shenoy. The book is published by an imprint of Leadstart Publishing. We are thankful to the publishers for providing us the review copy. The review is uninfluential by all means.
Let us take a look at the cover page of “Shikhandini: Warrior Princess of the Mahabharata”.
A cover page plays a very important role in a large number of purchases and reading decisions. So, despite believing in the fact that a book should not be judged by its cover, we must acknowledge the influence of the book cover.
The cover page of this book shows an illustration of the female protagonist which seems to be inspired a lot by Egyptian arts. In the dark red background, the illustration of the male version of her is also reflected. Shikhandini was a skilled swordswoman and devotee of Lord Shiva, these details are also represented on the cover page. So, it is a very thoughtful cover page. The shades of dark make the cover look a little dull, representing the state of mind the protagonist went through in the majority of her life. However, too much influence of foreign art and dullness may not go fine with some readers.
Let us take a bird’s view of the plot.
Shikhandini, the princess, born to Queen Kokila Devi and King Drupada of Panchala. She lives with her parents, her grandfather Prishata and her Dai Ma. Her childhood was quite happy and she was an apple of her mother’s eye.
One fateful day, she donned the lotus garland hanged in the quarantined area of the palace. She was joyful with her act, but her mother scolded her and behaved strangely with her. Shikhandini, the young kind, was unable to understand what made her mother so upset. She tried to make up with her by her playful behavior, as no child can think of upsetting her/his mother due to her/his actions.
Soon after this incident, she was sent to a different place to get trained and prepare for the future battle fulfilling a prophecy related to her and the most ferocious and unconquerable warrior of those days, Maharathi Bheeshm.
Of course, the story of Shikhandini aka Shikhandi is known to the majority of readers, we leave the rest of the book plot for them to explore by reading. Over the course, you meet Shikhandini, Drupada, Kokila Devi, Dai Ma, Sthunakarna, Pavaki, Maharishi Vyasa, Guru Maharishika Brahmaramba, Kush, Hiranyavarna, Pandavas, Kauravas, Kunti, Madri, Pandu, Dhritarashtra, Gandhari, Shakuni, Kshatradeva, and many other characters. Some in detail and some of them are just referred.
The book is the first full-length novel by Ashwini. However, while reading the book, the reader will not think so, even once, and that reflects the potential in her, as an author. She is here to stay and pen more books, I guess, I wish.
The problem with the stories that live for generations, decades, centuries and even millennia, is the superlativeness associated with it. Over the time the realities started converted into legends and often the things are stared being seen in the divine context. It has both good and adverse effects on the story. They are read or listen to with great devotion and attention and thus kept alive through generation, but the rational mind(s) starts thinking about it as fiction and neglecting the same.
What I found as the most positive attribute of the book is the balanced, or rather I would say, the rational approach of the author, based on her limited knowledge and research work. These lines from the book will give you a hint about the vision of the author:
Of course, there is a God… the Divine. There has to be. But why think of God as a magician? Is it not possible that he is perhaps the greatest scientist of all? If God was a magician, why would he have started with a single cell and evolved humans over yugas? He could have simply performed a yagya, spoken a few mantras, and created a complete human in a day. But it has taken yugas to make this world; to stabilize and maintain the perfect balance in everything; to formulate the ecosystem; to create the food chain; the laws of nature. And we humans reduce it all to magic? God has left evidence of his experiments and inventions everywhere, for us to find, understand and appreciate – in the soil, the air and water – and greatest of all, the panchabuta in the human body.
And the character who utters this word is,… well that makes everything even more impactful, so I will leave it for you to get the name by reading.
In the same rational context Ashwini also says:
Contrary to the popular belief, rishis did not achieve their knowledge with just penance and worship. They studied hard, through years of experiments, recording their findings, to benefit future generations.
And, she represented Yakshas also in quite a realistic manner. Their impeccable knowledge of herbs, medicines and sciences, their battle skills and other attributes,… all these attributes are written with a logical approach.
The Yakshas always fought battles based on the opponent’s nature. They followed no hard and fast rules. This made them fierce and brutal warriors.
In the author’s notes, she talks about “Science of Ila” (and why she referred to it so) and the concept of Kshitigarbh in a logical manner. However, if the story of Budh (Budha) and Ila was also explored in the book, it would have been even more interesting and convincing. In this book, you will find the references to Rishikas and Maharishikas (the female rishis) reflecting the rather “advanced” way of living and gender unbiasedness during those days. At the same time, you will find references to the typical mentalities of some of the people, as well.
You had the choice, prince. But you chose the sword, believing it would be easy to fight a woman. Your arrogance has led you to your doom.
The book, rather than giving pseudo-feminism lectures, actually shows how a person can rise above all odds, without bashing the other gender (why to consider it as – opposite gender?). This is the way to represent a strong character.
You will find some characters and places that are named in regional style the author is probably influenced by, like: Aryavarth, Bharatha, Suthaputhra, Ashwathama, Vidhura, panchabuta… When you are writing a book for a global readership, taking care of such things makes your work better. Pandu is referred to as Pandeshwar in the book, this is the first time I see someone referring him so.
The author is good at writing oneliners, some of them live with you even after you complete reading the book. Here are some of them:
Nothing, no matter how powerful, can go against destiny.
Winning requires strength, valour and self-confidence.
Not using your skills even when the opportunity presents itself, is the trait of a fool.
… the pain caused by a loved one is far more agonizing than that caused by a foe.
Fire leapt forth like some mythological beast, swallowing everything in its path.
… Like a bird long caged, her spirit left her body, leaving behind all those she had loved.
Here are some quotes about friendship and realities of life, from the book:
The promise of friendship that would last a lifetime; the promise of sharing everything we achieved in life. Do you forget I saved your life from the leopard in the forest?
I made no such promises, … As for saving my life, my guards protect me every day, that does not make them my friends.
Drona finally understood the truth behind this mortal life – friendship, trust and modesty were mere philosophical concepts. The only thing people respected was money and power.
I also like the way she referred Kaurava-Pandava terms and questioned that aren’t Pandavas also Kauravas (descendants of Kuru). It is worth noting that they are referred to as Dhartarashtras at places. And, I personally look for all these retellings to see a reference to that word, mostly disappointed. Anyway, let us see how the author brings in the question:
“Kauravas is the name given to the descendants of the Kuru dynasty…” Shikhandini said, “so are not the sons of King Pandeshwar Kauravas as well?”
And, the way she summarizes the logical answer, makes it more interesting.
The author is good at writing emotional scenes. Rather than making the representation of the feelings too melodramatic she represents them in simple yet effective words:
No one could understand Pandeshwar’s agony better than Bheeshm. Being the cause of an innocent man’s death, whether intentional or not, was the greatest sin of Kshatriya Dharma.
Vidura smiled to see the determined look in the youngster’s eyes. His nine-year-old nephew was far older and wiser than his years.
What use of all this fame and power when obtained at the cost of your loved ones? What has your pride brought you but an empty heart?
…She has been punishing herself every minute since you left. She has not participated in any festivities or celebrations since the day you left. She did not even grace the naming ceremony of your brother and sister. Poor children, they do not know their mother.
The last quote about the love of a mother is one of the best I found in this book. The book also talks about the need of balancing in relations, passively. Read these words uttered by Drupada and the context of the same, if it is followed, most of the domestic turbulences can be kept at bay.
Panchali is no longer ours to save my child. Intervening in this matter would be to insult the Pandavas. …
Again, the context is important to understand. Neither Drupad nor his family has ever left Draupadi to her fate, they fought for her in the great battle and met with their deaths. Half-knowledge is often dangerous.
In this book, Shikhandini does swordfight with Bheeshm! Of course, she was a ferocious swordswoman, but the fall of Bheeshma was on the bed of arrows and many readers may find this swordfight hard to digest.
The author has a rich vocabulary. She uses some interesting phrases like “political quagmire” in the book. The Glossary at the end of the book is another positive attribute of the book.
Of course, there are many elements, scenes and incidents in the book we can talk about in detail, but I wanted to keep as many spoilers as possible, at the bay.
Overall, an interesting representation of Mahabharata from the perspective of an unsung (or less sung) hero – Shikhandini; in a realistic and rational manner.
Around 8 to 8.5 out of 10 stars.
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