In the present times, with expanding globalisation, the world is getting closer. Prospects for Indian writings in English, in this scenario, have also expanded. English is gaining popularity and the same has become a language of upper and middle class Indians. Indian writings in English are not only popular among these classes of Indians but are also being read across the world. Contemporary Indian writers who write in English try their best to show themselves as much rooted as possible in Indian Culture and assert their Indianness.
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In this paper, we’ll analyse Amish Tripathi’s Shiva trilogy to explore his assertion of Indianness. Amish Tripathi is known for his mythological fiction writing in the era when other writers mostly highlight contemporary family values, moral values, customs, culture and many other aspects to emphasize Indianness in their writing, Amish Tripathi has chosen mythology to assert the Indianness. In this study, we will also look at Tripathi’s views regarding Indianness and see how far has he succeeded in asserting Indianness in his trilogy.
Before we move ahead it is necessary to understand the concept of Indianness. India is a land of co-existing multiple cultures and traditions. U.S. Rukhaiyar and Amar Nath Prasad in Studies in Indian Poetry in English state that “Indianness is a particular, individualistic ‘life-attitude’ and ‘mode of perception’ ” (149). They further quote Prof. V.K. Gokak who describes Indianness as “a composite awareness in the matter of race, milieu, language and religion” (149). Thus, Indianness can be considered as the summation of diverse cultures of India and ideology and ideals which composes India.
Amish Tripathi’s first book of the trilogy, The Immortals of Meluha was published in 2010 followed by The Secret of the Nagas in 2011 and The Oath of Vayuputras in 2013. Tripathi appears to be a devotee of Shiva (S. Pandit). Although, during his youth he was an atheist but he returned to faith, when started writing these books (S. Babbar). He became religious to the extent to regard religion as a trope to define Indianness. Tripathi defines Indianness in Verve as follows:
The Indianness of India lies in our religiosity. I wouldn’t restrict it to any particular religion, since we have practically every religion in the world existing within India. It is our attitude towards religion. Simply put, our deep religiosity defines the Indianness of India.
Now, if his turning religious is only for getting a wider readership in India where majority of people are religious or if he truly felt it, is something we don’t know. But, certainly his trilogy occurs as a persuading text for our not-much-caring-about-religion youth to attract them to become religious.
His first book begins at ‘Mansarovar Lake’ in Tibet in 1900 BC where Shiva is the chief of a tribe called ‘Gunas’. The story begins when Shiva along with his tribe decides to move to ‘Meluha’, an organised (read more cultured and prosperous) kingdom with facilities and comfort, to avoid attacks from a neighbouring tribe called ‘Pakratis’. Shiva meets the immortal Meluhans that follow the path set out by Ram and call themselves ‘Suryavanshis’. Soon on an occasion, Shiva drinks ‘Somras’ that gives Shiva a blue throat. There was a prophecy that Suryavanshis believed in. According to which the blue throated one, the ‘Neelkantha’ will gain them victory over their rivals, ‘Chandravanshis’ who have hired evil assassins, the ‘Nagas’ to attack and conquer Meluha. Shiva, there, also meets a beautiful girl named Sati and marries her. Sati is kidnapped by a Naga in front of Shiva. As a result, Shiva soon learns that ‘Chandravanshis’ are not the real evil and marches to the land of Nagas in search of evil in The Secret of the Nagas. That land of Nagas is shown as occupied by deformed beings. During his quest he meets Kali, sister of his wife Sati and Ganesh, the first son of Sati. In The Oath of Vayuputras Shiva gets to know about the ill effects of Somras. It has caused reduction in the water level of Saraswati River and the waste formed during the manufacture of Somras was put in the Tsangpo River, which has caused plague in a place called Branga. Also, the birth deformities of Nagas were caused by it. After learning that Meluha is the heart of producing Somras, Shiv attacks Meluha. He acquires ‘Pashupatiastra’ from Vayuputras, a tribe led by previous Mahadev, Rudra that avowed to support Neelkantha, and destroys Devagiri, the capital of Meluha.
Amish Tripathi makes use of the ancient Indian mythology of Shiva, but blends it with fiction. According to A Glossary of Literary Terms by M. H. Abrams and Geoffrey Galt Harpham, mythology “is a system of hereditary stories of ancient origin which were once believed to be true by a particular cultural group, and which served to explain why the world is as it is and things happen as they do, to provide a rationale for social customs and observances, and to establish the rules by which people conduct their lives.” Mythology may be considered to be history by a few people, but one could argue that it is fiction and therefore there is no single version of mythology. It is generally twisted and turned according to one’s belief.
Indian Mythology, in the same way, provides a way of life for Indians. Tripathi refers to the mythology of Shiva that can be found in the epic called Shivpuran. Encyclopaedia Britannica provides glimpses of Shiva’s stature in Hindu or Indian culture as:
Shiva, (Sanskrit: “Auspicious One”)…one of the main deities of Hinduism, whom Shaivas worship as the supreme god (Shaivism). Among his common epithets are Shambhu (“Benign”), Shankara (“Beneficent”), Mahesha (“Great Lord”), and Mahadeva (“Great God”)…Shiva is represented in a variety of forms: in a pacific mood with his consort Parvati and son Skanda, as the cosmic dancer (Nataraja), as a naked ascetic, as a mendicant beggar, as a yogi, and as the androgynous union of Shiva and his consort in one body, half-male and half-female (Ardhanarishvara). As Bhairava, he is often depicted as a Dalit (formerly called an untouchable) and accompanied by a dog. He is both the great ascetic and the master of fertility, and he is the master of both poison and medicine, through his ambivalent power over snakes. As Lord of Beasts (Pashupati), he is the benevolent herdsman—or, at times, the merciless slaughterer of the “beasts” that are the human souls in his care.
Tripathi takes up traditional Indian mythology, which is regarded as factual history by some especially religious ones and as fiction by others, and creates his own fiction. The story that Tripathi weaves is such that it includes major characters and events related to Shiva in the ancient Indian mythology but modifies the traditional narrative. The actions, the narrative, signs and codes of traditional mythology are changed to the extent that they “are reduced to names, vague references and symbols, while the poetic abilities of the author are hampered by religious sentiments” (Eric M. Gurevitch).
Shiva although embodies the same power and same status but the manner in which events associated with him takes place are altered. Ganesh, traditionally believed to be Shiva’s own son is shown here as a child bore by Sati, Shiva’s wife, prior to their marriage. So what we can see is that Tripathi plays with traditional mythology that we know about.
Also, Tripathi has shown his characters not as Gods but as humans. Shiva, Sati, Kali, Ganesh, Kartik, they are all there in human believable form unlike their projection in Vedas and Puranas where they had supernatural powers. Shiva is the chief of a Tibetan tribe and others also have human forms. However, these humans that Tripathi depicts are too perfect for being a human. For example, Shiva is always morally correct. His relationship with Sati is never shown as a relationship of passion that a human being might have. Therefore, we can say that the values that a traditional Shiva possess are not violated by Tripathi. He is a God-like person. Thus, we see a fine balance of Tripathi’s own imagination and traditional ancient Indian mythology.
Since Mythology, on its own, has no rigid boundaries and could be moulded or transformed up to any stretch of imagination of writer himself, these novels provide an alternate mythology for the Indian reader. However, for a non- Indian reader who is not well acquainted with traditional mythology of India, this trilogy can serve as the only mythology of India.
Tripathi in his novels has also tried to amalgamate ancient Indian mythology with recent history and contemporary reality. The relationship between Meluha, the land of Suryavanshi’s and Swadeep, the kingdom of Chandravanshi’s reminds the readers of the relationship between India and Pakistan. Chandravanshis constantly attacked Suryavanshis which is reminiscent of terrorist attacks by Pakistan (Eric .M. Gurevitch). Also, Pakistanis uphold the symbol of moon which again links it to the Chandravanshis, where ‘Chandra’ means moon. Although, Tripathi by showing that Chandravanshis are not the real evil is highlighting that Pakistanis may be misunderstood by Indians.
One can also say that the tensions between Meluhans and Nagas replicates the tension between India and China or Indian government and the Northeastern Tribes of India. ‘Naga’ is an actual tribe in northeast India. The Nagas in the story are neglected, feared and looked at as enemy because of their abnormality. Kali and Ganesha were abandoned by Meluhans because they had an extra pair of hands and an animal head. Kali and Ganesh attacks Meluhans to assert their independence and to mark their identity. It resembles the strife that we constantly see between north-east Indians and rest of Indians because of their Mongoloid looks that are uncommon outside north-east India. Tripathi also brings in International tensions in his fiction. The picture of Meluhans producing toxic Somras that causes deformities in Nagas reminds us of World War II, where USA dropped Atom Bombs upon Japan that causes various deformities in Japanese of radiation affected areas till date.
Another aspect that makes his mythological fiction in tune with contemporary world is the introduction of scientific dimension. When Shiva reaches Meluha for the first time he sees that Meluhans use modern equipment like showers etc. They also excel in medicine. And apart from this, they are advanced enough to produce Somras which is told to be a chemical compound, which if taken in undiluted form can be poisonous. Also, the two Asrtras, ‘Brahmastra’ and ‘Pashupatiastra’ mentioned in the books can be seen as a product of modern science. The Pashupatiastra is a missile (possibly nuclear fission missile) of Pashupati (another name of Lord Shiva in traditional Hindu Mythology), used to destroy specific targeted area, while the Brahmastra is a missile (possibly nuclear fusion missile) of Brahma which does not have a controlled effect. (Sreedharan 778)
It is clear that Tripathi indulges in all the above aspects as he is aspiring for larger readership. New generations that are inclined towards science and the older ones that still holds on to mythology, both are attracted towards this amalgam that Tripathi has created. With this, he is reviving interest of young generation, which is overshadowed by scientific reasoning, in mythology by justifying mythology through science and warfare technology. This combination of science and mythology that Tripathi uses, makes his novels and the ideas that he infuses in them as more acceptable to the reader.
Despite above, one cannot ignore his conspicuous argument that he is trying to show in his Trilogy about Indianness that we’ll see later in this paper.
Furthermore, Tripathi also showcases Indian values, traditions and customs efficiently. Throughout the series, we see that there is commitment in each and every relationship portrayed. The relationship between Shiva and Sati is a strong bond which is not broken even when Shiva gets to know about Ganesha. Sati and Shiva both are equally respectful to each other. Similarly, Shiva is a true friend. He doesn’t let his position as a chief come between him and Bhadra. He always wonders “Why does he keeps forgetting that he has been my closest friend since childhood? My becoming the chief hasn’t really changed anything.” (The Immortals of Meluha 13) Apart from this Indian salutation of ‘Namaste’ is constantly used in the books along with the gesture of bowing down and touching somebody’s feet out of respect.
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Though Tripathi claims to assert Indianness through his trilogy, one needs to understand his notion of Indianness and his literary practice, which could be disappointing for some readers. Even though he expressed his version of Indianness in Verve referred above where he seems to believe that Indianness is defined by religiosity and all the religions evoke the idea of Indianness, but while writing this Trilogy, he completely ignored all other religions but Hinduism. This fact emphasizes that to become more Indian, Hinduism is the only way. Hinduism might be a way of life for majority of Indians, but Indian culture cannot be defined in terms of Hinduism only. Indian culture is a diverse cultural and is formed by different communities having different faiths. Also, what about those citizens of India that are non- religious. Are they not true Indians? By giving himself to a single faith, despite his claim of multiplicity of religious faith, Tripathi seems to be propagating Hinduism. Except this, he takes all the right steps as he blends in all the other elements to make his trilogy acceptable for most readers spreading across all the age groups and nations.
Thus, though it seems that Tripathi has been able to assert his version of Indianness by resorting to mythology, where he relates it to contemporary reality and also by showing traditions and customs practiced in India. But he definitely could not provide true idea of Indianness which embodies the idea of ‘unity in diversity’. He appears to believe that if one wants to be more Indian, then one should embrace his or her religiosity. According to this statement, he clearly seems to neglect the group of non- believers in India. However, even if we ignore the fact that he has neglected the group of non-believers in his ideology of Indianness, he by not involving other religious beliefs, has not been able to implement his ideology successfully in his works till date. Despite this approach, Tripathi has succeeded in garnering commercial success but he also apparently has succeeded in propagating Hinduism.
Moreover, it is important to see that while writing this Trilogy, he has considered Hindu mythology as Indian mythology, which could possibly be because Hinduism is originated from India, while other religions like Christianity and Islam did not. Religions like Buddhism, Jainism or Sikhism have their roots in some way or the other in Hinduism. However, his considering Hindu mythology as Indian mythology led to ignoring all the other mythologies of India, even that of native tribal communities of India. He has neglected the diversity of Indian culture. And that is why it is difficult to say that Tripathi has been able to assert Indianness successfully and justly.
We can still hope that he might include all those categories of so far neglected people in his upcoming works and will be able to present a more justified, true and acceptable picture of Indianness because Tripathi’s novels have a huge readership including young generation across the world. His representation of Indianness in a truer manner will help these readers to get a better and near to truth picture of India.
Abrams, M.H., Geoffrey Galt Harpham. A Glossary of Literary Terms. 10th ed. Delhi: Cengage Learning India Pvt Ltd, 2012. Print.
Babbar, Sonakshi. “Writing changed me from an atheist to a Shiva bhakt: Amish Tripathi”. Hindustan Times 10 September 2011. Print.
Gurevitch, Eric .M. “Implausible Deniability – Reading Amish Tripathi’s ‘Shiva’ Trilogy: Eric Gurevitch”. Kafila. 28 April 2014. Web. 20 Oct. 2014.
Pandit, Shruti. “My books are Shiva’s blessings”. The Times of India 12 June 2012. Print.
Rukhaiyar, U.S., and Amar Nath Prasad. Studies in Indian Poetry in English. New Delhi: Sarup & Sons, 2002. Print.
“Shiva”. Encyclopaedia Britannica. n.d. Web. 31 Oct. 2014.
Sreedharan, M.S. Bharatiya Vigyan Manjusha. New Delhi: Publications Division, Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, Government of India, 2005. Print.
Tripathi, Amish. The Immortals of Meluha. Chennai: Westland Ltd, 2010. Print.
—. The Secret of the Nagas. Chennai: Westland Ltd, 2011. Print.
—. The Oath of Vayuputras. Chennai: Westland Ltd, 2013. Print.
— “The Indianness of India”. Verve Volume 20, Issue 8, August 2012. Web. 20 Oct. 2014.
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