Mythology in Indian fiction
New Delhi: Rama, Ravana, Arjuna, Jesus Christ, Lord Shiva, Ganesha and the epics are becoming fodder for contemporary Indo-Anglian literature. Writers say it is a new way of looking at Indian culture and draw young readers.
The reprint of two popular titles – ‘The Immortals of Meluha’ by Amish Tripathy and ‘The Rozabal Line’ by Ashwin Sanghi last month - brought the gods back from their heavenly abodes to play action games on earth. The books have been published by Westland Ltd.
Amish Tripathy re-tells a folkore from Jammu and Kashmir about the descent of Lord Shiva in his blue-neck Neelkantha avatar from Tibet with his warriors to Meluha, a modern-day Indus Valley city located in Srinagar, to save the city. Sanghi spins a murder mystery around the supposed grave of Jesus Christ at the Rozabal shrine in Kashmir.
Three new fiction tomes – ‘The Ganesh Scripture’ by Alice Albina, ‘The Golden Sacrifice of the Mahabharata’ by Maggi Lidchi Grassi and ‘Kalika and Dimna: The Panchatantra Retold’ by Ramsay Wood - published by Random House this year use Ganesha, Vyasa, Arjuna and mythical demons to narrate gripping stories.
"People normally write about things steeped in our culture. I think it is very natural that they will write about gods," said award-winning writer and MP Shashi Tharoor, whose seminal work, "The Great Indian Story" was a contemporary re-telling of the epic Mahabharata in the context of Indian polity.
Mythology is present in our common lives, he said.
"Gods are very accessible and, as I have said before, they jostle against our shoulders in buses. Our lives are marked by a sense of divine in every sphere," Tharoor said.
The genre of spiritual or religious fiction has come of age many many times and has many more ages to come, the writer-politician said when asked by reporters if "religious fiction had come of age".
New Zealand-based fantasy fiction writer David Hair, who has been exploring the country and studying scriptures since 2007, this week published his first Indian title, "Pyre of the Queens" from his new "The Return of Ravana" adventure series. It has been published by Penguin-India.
Ravana is reincarnated as modern-day sorcerer Ravindra Raj in Hair`s book to chase enemies from previous life.
Writer Tripathy is gung-ho about the commercial prospect of spiritual fiction. "`The Immortals of Meluha` is part of a Shiva trilogy. The second book will take off from where the first one ends," Tripathy told reporters.
Besides the sequel, the Indian Institute of Management (IIM)-Kolkata graduate plans to write fiction about a lost Middle Eastern empire and an unknown aspect of emperor Akbar`s life that biographer Abul Fazl mentions vaguely in his work.
The writer believes that "gods are people from a higher world who transcend mortal world on the strength of their exemplary karma".
"Religious fiction is a new way of looking at culture and Indian spirituality to rekindle interest of young readers," the writer said.
Novelist Sanghi told reporters: "All books that have a theological and historical theme fits into a genre."
The writer, a businessman by profession, said "he was inspired to write about Jesus after reading a book on the shroud of Turin by Holger Kersten, who has also authored a book on the life of Jesus in India".
"Later, I studied the papers of Nicholas Notovitch in 1818 about Jesus Christ`s visit to Hemis monastery in Leh," he said.
Sanghi said evidence suggests that Christ may have returned later to Kashmir after rising from the cross "because the tomb at Rozabal is home to a saint Yuz Asaf who was buried around 112 AD".
He is currently writing a fiction based on the life of economist Chanakya, the creator of Artha Shastra.
The idea to write fiction about Ravana crossed David Hair`s mind at Mehrangarh Fort in Jodhpur in Rajasthan. "It was the site of ancient Mandore, the capital of Ravana`s in-laws," he told reporters.
"Indian spirituality, karma and the theory of past life are great concepts for fiction. Reincarnation as a literary theme is a new genre," said Hair, who is currently writing a sequel to his first book.
The sequel, set in Mumbai, harks back to Rajput ruler Prithviraj Chauhan and the Swayamvara of princess Sanyukta with whom he eloped and Bollywood presenter Rakhi Sawant`s ‘Swayamvara’.
India has seen great novels in the past based on mythology, said Renuka Chatterjee, editor of Westland Ltd. "Mythological characters are part of our homes and families that help us form an immediate connect," she told reporters.