Abhaya by Saiswaroopa Iyer

Today, I’m talking about a book, Abhaya, written by Saiswaroopa Iyer. It’s a mythological fiction.

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Mythological Background

According to author, her story explores the episode of Narakasura killing from the perspective of a fictional female protagonist, Abhaya Dhaarmaseni. She further says, “Be it curiosity, adventure, love or realization, Abhaya has been my window to explore and experience Krishna Vaasudeva.” 

Narakasura was the son of Varaha Avatara of Lord Vishnu and Mother Goddess Earth. The killing of Narakasura is associated with celebration of Deepawali and Kali Puja.   

There are three stories famous in Indian subcontinent regarding killing of Narakasura. In one story, he was killed by Krishna. In another story, he was killed by Satyabhama, one of the wives of Krishna. And in third story, he was killed by Kali.

The book has three main characters in this regard. In the context of Narakasura killing, Kali, Satyabhama, and Krishna could be loosely represented by characters: Dhatri, Abhaya, and Krishna respectively.

Well, to know who kills Narakasura in the book, you’ll have to read the book. 🙂

Apart from the episode of Narakasura killing, the book deals with migration of Krishna from Mathura to Dwaraka, marriage of Krishna with Mitravinda, one of the Asthabharyas, and organization of Rajasuya Yajna by Yudhisthira to earn the status of ‘Empire’ for Indraprastha.

Most of the people knew about Radha and Rukmani. Because of Ramanand Sagar’s TV serial Krishna, people also came to know about Satyabhama and Jambavati, but Krishna had eight principal wives and Mitravinda was one of them. People also know about Krishna that he had 16000 wives. This was also related to Narakasura killing episode.

Krishna is also known as Murari. He got this name by killing Mura, Chief Army Commander of Narakasura. 

Narakasura was also known as Bhauma, because of being son of Bhumi (Goddess Earth). In the book, author referred him as Bhauma.

Significance of Abhaya

As said, it’s a piece of fiction, then what would be its significance?

The question is not whether stories of Krishna happened in real or not, the question is whether the stories of Krishna teach us something in real or not. Any piece of writing, whether mythology or history, fiction or non-fiction, is significant only when it teaches something which can be used to improve the quality of our life.

The book is full of incidences from which we could learn valuable lessons of life.

Core Messages of Abhaya

The book talks about the basic principles of life, Dharma, and how one deviates from Dharma and indulges in evil activities. It also suggests the ways to follow the path of Dharma.

Abhaya isn’t just the name of the protagonist and her story. It is used in broader aspect. Abhaya is about the victory over fear. Fear is considered as the root cause of Adharma and we could overcome fear through faith and empathy.

Author defines Dharma as that which values life over frenzied beliefs; that which balances and ensures sustenance; that which strengthens from within against fears and weaknesses.

Plot of Novel

Any fiction can be broadly divided into two parts: Plot and Narration. Plot is the strong part of the author.

The story has two main plots and one subplot which eventually merge at the climax of the novel. One plot deals with Abhaya—her upbringing, her role in the marriage of Krishna and Mitravinda, her affair with Krishna, her fight with her neighbor kingdom, and her role in the killing of Bhauma.

Another plot deals with Dhatri, who is rescued by Bhauma from the atrocities of Arya and later declared by him as Medium of Supreme Goddess. Bhauma is using Dhatri and Shakta cult to have a lordship over the world.

The subplot deals with the Vikrama’s search for his mother and his love affair with Shyeni. Vikrama is the adopted brother of Abhaya.

Characterization in the Novel

Characterization can be broadly divided into two parts: Physical features of characters and their character-structure. The novel lacks the description of physical features of characters, but has well worked out character-structure. Character-structure of characters in the novel is not descriptive but reflective. It reflects through behavior of the characters.

The main characters of the novel are:

Krishna —> Krishna is shown as normal human being without any magical powers. Normally, contemporary authors strip off Krishna’s spiritual wisdom in the name of presenting him human. But Saiswaroopa kept his spiritual wisdom and mysticism intact with him.

Abhaya —> Abhaya is curious, upbeat, charismatic, courageous, sympathetic, diplomatic, witty, determined, audacious, and a bit domineering. She likes to make her own decision and live life on her own terms.  I like the way she tosses her plait over her shoulder on particular occasions. If you want to visualize her, you can imagine Katniss Everdeen of The Hunger Games movie series.

Dhatri —> Dhatri is bold, emotional, compassionate, and mature. She has many shades.  

Bhauma —> Bhauma is shrewd, cunning, cruel, and ambitious. He is a pot of poison which outer surface is painted by nectar.

Vikrama —> Vikrama is simple, frank, brave, open-hearted, sentimental, and transparent. He’s skilled in artillery and warfare but lacks diplomatic skills.

Shyeni —> Shyeni is innocent, straightforward, bubbly, courageous, loving, and a bit obstinate. 

Names of the character are beautifully chosen, as per ancient tradition. In Indian mythology, names tell something about the characters; it isn’t just the name for calling someone. In fact, one character has many names like, Krishna, Murari, Ranchor are the names of Krishna only, given to him at various occasions. He is called Krishna because of his dark skin; called Murari because killed Mura, called Ranchor because flew from Mathura.

In the same way, one of protagonists of the book is Abhaya because she is fearless. Another is called Dhatri because she is the medium of Supreme Goddess. Every name in the book tells you something about the character.   

Style of Narration

The narration is fluent, articulate, learned, idiomatic, impassioned and informative. The author keeps the tension of ‘what coming next’ by switching among the main plots and the subplot of the story.

The novel is written in Modern English. This may lead some traditional grammarian to raise their eyebrows.

There are two ways of showing what’s going inside one’s mind: by showing thought process in words and by reflecting one’s inner thought through one’s body language. The preference of author is body language and she’s pretty good in it.

Abhaya and Body Language

There’s a line in the book: “Abhaya caught a familiar accent and her eyes widened with realization.” In first glance, the sentence doesn’t appear extraordinary, but it’s the ‘widening of eyes’ that helped magician and stunt performer Criss Angel to determine which number Oprah had chosen between 1 and 100, during an episode of Oprah Winfrey’s talk show in 2007.

Janine Driver, a lie detection expert for the FBI, CIA, and ATF, revealed in her book, You Say More Than You Think, that Criss found out the number by noticing the microexpressions of surprise on Oprah’s face when he guessed the number. Microexpressions of surprise involve widening of eyes, rising up of eyebrows, and dropping of jaws.

One could learn the subtleties of body language by careful observation of author’s narration. 

Abhaya and Institution of Marriage

Author has beautifully elucidated the various aspects of marriage in the book through dialogues of various characters.

She explains how marriages came to be looked upon as strategic moves rather than personal ones. She questions the limited choices left with the individual in selecting one’s life-partner; either one has to agree for contrived alliance forced upon oneself or has to elope against the wishes of one’s own family. She asks whether individual has the right to wed in a proper way or not.

She also deals with the situation when a girl leaves her family to live with whom she has to marry—What’s going in her mind? How she feels in those moments, when her beliefs clash with the priorities of the one she loved?

Author also tries to differentiate ‘love for freedom’ from ‘fear of commitment’ in the context of marriage and tells how women are the first ones to give in. With passage of time, all the fears, confusions, and hesitations disappear and both of the partners grow up to understand each other better and stand by each other.

She also throws light on what should be the criterion for marriage. In Abhaya, it’s said, “When a man and a woman unite for a cause—a cause that is not narrow, a cause that would bind them together to itself so that they are the one and the same. When the man the woman and the purpose become one and the same, they are no different from the inseparable Shakti and Shiva.”

It’s further said in the book, especially for men, “Of all men, you should know what a woman goes through when the man she loves considers her only as someone to be protected and not a partner? Don’t the scriptures say that the bride is also Sahadharmacharini?
 
The book reveals the secret of love-life by saying that love is not just about trusting each other’s loyalty or respecting each other’s freedom. It is also about trusting ourselves about what the other person means to us. The mantra given is to trust yourself, you will be able to trust others in a better way in any relationship.

Abhaya and Concept of Yoni

After receiving the book, when I was flipping the pages of the book, my eyes got fixed on this line, “The shrine of Kamaksha was a sanctified rock, revered as the Yoni, the primal womb of the Supreme Goddess….It is the very reason behind the sustenance of life and creation.”

In my opinion, ‘Yoni’ doesn’t mean ‘Womb’ but ‘Vagina.’ I thought, it was a typo and immediately dropped a mail to the author to rectify it. The author replied that it wasn’t a typo but deliberate statement. She quoted Bhagwadgeeta verses 3 & 4 of Chapter 14 in support of her view. I interpreted it differently. We discussed it in detail and finally arrived at a conclusion, which is reflected in this Nietzsche’s quote, “There are no facts, only interpretations.”

At one point in our discussion, I suggested her to refer Yoni Tantra, but when I finished the book, I found the mention of Yoni Tantra already in reference section of the book. In fact, it has 12 other names, apart from Yoni Tantra. It shows that the fiction is backed by solid research and contains the essence of many mythological & spiritual books. 

Abhaya and Right & Left Wings of Religion and Politics

The point of saying all these is to show that it’s easy to criticize others but it takes effort to understand other’s point of view.

The same is the condition with rightist & leftist of Hindu religion as well as Indian politics. Like politics of Hindustan, Hindu religion also has Right wing and Left wing. The leftist in Hindu religion are called Vamachari. They practice Tantra. Their rituals include eating meat & fish, drinking wine, and having sexual intercourse. They are not seen with respectful eyes by rightist.

The book tries to establish an understanding between their different ideologies and rituals. Their ideologies and rituals are different; it doesn’t mean that they are enemies. The fear of being oppressed by other wing makes them aggressive and enemy of each other.

Let us understand it like this: When you encounter snake in your house, you attack it because you think that it would kill you. The snake also attacks you because it thinks that you would kill it. You both aren’t enemy of each other, but the fear makes you both think like that. The root cause of evil is always Fear. 

There are some antisocial elements on both sides, who fan the spark of fear and turn it into a huge flames of rage & hatred, which have the potentiality to destroy the entire society.

This whole concept is beautifully depicted in the book.

Abhaya and Bhagwadgeeta

It’s easy to quote Bhagwadgeeta verses and do commentary on them but it’s difficult to reflect the essence of the verses in behavior and dialogues of the protagonist. Chapter 4 Verse 8 of Bhagwadgeeta says:

Paritraanaaya saadhoonaam vinaashaaya cha dushkritaam;
Dharma samsthaapanaarthaaya sambhavaami yuge yuge.

The verse is mostly misinterpreted. The phrase ‘vinaashaaya cha dushkritaam’ is mostly understood as ‘destruction of wicked or evil-doers.’ But the way I see it, Krishna isn’t talking about the wicked here but wickedness.

For Krishna, soul never dies; it’s immortal and body is already dead; it’s nothing more than a cloth. So why would he destroy cloth? What would he gain by destroying the body?

In my opinion, ‘destruction of evil-doers’ is more appropriate than ‘destruction of the wicked.’ But the question is: Who is doer—Soul or Body?

Neither Soul nor Body is doer. Well, there’s one more thing between Soul & Body and that is MIND, which is the abode of EGO. Ego is the doer. And to destroy ego, one need not to destroy the body.

If we break ‘dushkritaam,’ we get dush + krit (root word for Kritya). ‘Kritya’ means ‘action.’ ‘Dushkritaam’ could be understood as ‘evil action.’

Action is neutral. It is the mindset behind the action that makes it good or evil. So, when Krishna said “Paritraanaaya saadhoonaam vinaashaaya cha dushkritaam,” he meant protecting the positive mindset and destroying the negative mindset. It wasn’t about person but mindset. Krishna didn’t believe in revengeful punishment but forgiveness and transformation of people.

This aspect of Krishna is beautifully depicted in the book. There’s an incidence in the book in which Krishna transformed highway robbers into traders by absorbing them into mainstream livelihood of the society.  

Abhaya and Misuse of Islam for Global Terrorism    

The book is also useful in understanding the mindset of terrorists who misuse Islam for their selfish motives.

In Abhaya, Bhauma misuse the cult of Shakta for his selfish motive to rule over entire Bharatavarsha. He feeds his corrupted version of Shakta order to the innocent minds who want to join the cult, as nowadays terrorists who teach the corrupted version of Islam to serve their ulterior motives.

When Bhauma was declaring Shakta as superior religion over right wing, a true leftist said, “Practising a religion is a personal Saadhana. We don’t choose a religion because of stupid claims of superiority. We choose a certain religion not only because its tenets suit our temperament, but also because practising those tenets helps us to overcome our weaknesses. It is an endeavour to kill false pride and the sense of superiority. It is an endeavour to feel one with the universe.”

The same is the view of true Islamist, Maulana Wahiduddin Khan, who in his book, The Age of Peace, quoted Quran Verse, which reflects the same feeling, “For you your religion, for me mine.” (109:6)

Author beautifully deals with the factors and methods that lead one to follow corrupt religious leaders.

Abhaya and Awakening the Giant Within

Anthony Robbins in his book, Awaken the Giant Within, talked about what had led an U.S. Army officer to write a letter detailing the countless injustices and destructiveness of the American way of life—the capitalist society—and praising the superiority and ethical humanity of the Communist system and further to denounce his own country, when he was held captive by the Chinese Communists in POW camps in North Korea. He wasn’t even beaten or tortured in any manner.

What caused this officer to completely reverse his world-view and dismantle the beliefs that had been instilled in him over a lifetime? What caused him to abandon the core values he’d previously held and become a collaborator with the enemy? What single change would make such a radical shift in the thoughts, emotions, and actions of an individual?

You could get the answers of above questions by analyzing yourself how Bhauma pursued Dhatri to follow Shakta beliefs without giving tortures of any kind, neither physical nor emotional. Brainwashing of Dhatri is wonderfully executed. One could learn the trick in stepwise manner from the conversations of Bhauma and Dhatri in the book.

Drawbacks of the Book

Despite giving section for an explanation of Hindi terms used in the book, many terms remained unexplained like, Yogini, Jhoola, Yojanas, Janapadas, Itihas, etc.

One couldn’t access the individual chapters from ‘Table of Contents’ section of Kindle app/device.

Abhaya and Social Issues

The book deals with many social issues. In fact, the book starts with an incidence in which a mob is trying to kill a couple in the name of honor killing. Other issues which are dealt in the book are population, domestic violence, Ganga cleaning, conversion to other religion, secondary status of women, polygamy, use of superstition to instill fear in people, selling of Tantra as ‘wish fulfilling machine,’ etc.

The book doesn’t deal with the conversion from Hindu to other religions like, Buddhism, Islam or Christianity. The conversion that takes place in the book is the conversion from right wing of Hindu religion to left wing of Hindu religion. But the factors that lead to such conversions could be analyzed to understand the present conversion of oppressed group of Hindu religion to other religions.    

Abhaya in matters of Love & Relationships

The book deals with many flavors of love & relationships. You could get six different flavors of romantic relationship, in which one is one-sided or better call it a parasitic (Anuvinda-Abhaya) and one is complex (Mura-Dhatri-Bhauma). The book deals with three father-daughter relationship angles but their flavors are almost same. Then there are four brother-sister relationships; each reveals a different aspect of it. There’s also a mother-son relationship. It’s the unusual one. Here the mother leaves his son when he’s small and on becoming adult, the son goes in search of her mother.  

Some Quotes from Abhaya

  • Mirage is a function of fantasy. Truth, on the other hand, never disappoints, if one can accept it.
  • There are times where choosing between enemies is more important than choosing between allies. At times when allies cannot be reached out to, or when allies are not in a position to extend help, it is advisable to revisit the priorities between rivals instead. A worthy enemy could perhaps save one from a bad ally.
  • It is easy to rebel and call for a revolution. What is difficult is to inspire evolution. That happens with transforming thought, not condemning people. That happens with challenging their thought and not by provoking their egos.
  • Never hope to make death an example. Make your life one instead. You must prevail, not perish, during the transformation.
  • The purpose of our life often beckons to us in the guise of a challenge or a hopeless situation. We define our worth based on whether we choose to ignore it or to face the challenge.
  • Dwell on strengths while accepting weaknesses, stay with faith while acknowledging fear, side with reason above rigidity without abandoning those who are rigid. The result, the evolution we dream of, will come with time as a function of our choices.
  • Just be yourself. Learning from the world means that you become a better you and you do not change yourself into someone else
  • An evolution is inspired by the individual’s internal will to adapt and not by rebellion spurred by momentary dissent….Fear is what stops us from questioning and exploring new shores.

 

 

 


37 Comments

  1. Archana Kapoor
    March 1, 2016

    Wow… Ravish! That was one detailed review on the book. I especially like the elucidation of marriage part! Very interesting… I am tempted to lay on my hands on it 🙂

    Reply
    1. Ravish Mani
      March 5, 2016

      I’m sure, you’ll like the book. Thanks, Archana, for stopping by and sharing your views. 🙂

      Reply
  2. rachnap
    March 1, 2016

    The book seems fascinating. I am not very strong in Indian mythology and I did not know that Krishna had so many wives. As per your review, the author does well both on the counts of plot and narration. Definitely seems like an intriguing read.

    Reply
    1. Ravish Mani
      March 5, 2016

      The book is indeed promising. I like the book for author’s spiritual & psychological understanding.

      Reply
  3. yogi saraswat
    March 1, 2016

    Apart from the episode of Narakasura killing, the book deals with
    migration of Krishna from Mathura to Dwaraka, marriage of Krishna with
    Mitravinda, one of the Asthabharyas, and organization of Rajasuya Yajna
    by Yudhisthira to earn the status of ‘Empire’ for Indraprastha. It should be interesting to read this book.

    Reply
    1. Ravish Mani
      March 5, 2016

      The book is indeed interesting. Thanks, Yogi Ji, for stopping by. 🙂

      Reply
  4. Saiswaroopa Iyer
    March 1, 2016

    Thanks Ravish, for such an exhaustive review that focussed on philosophy, plot, relationships, character structures and everything. Authors probably can’t say they have put their sweat and blood (technically) into their books. But a part of their soul and life goes into visualizing that world and people of that world. It feels so fulfilled when all of that is recognized this way. Thanks again.

    Reply
    1. Ravish Mani
      March 5, 2016

      All the credit goes to you, Sai. If you didn’t come up with such an inclusive plot, I couldn’t have described it that way. So, thanks to you. 🙂

      Reply
  5. Jyoti
    March 1, 2016

    बहुत बढ़िया प्रस्तुति, रविश जी।

    Reply
    1. Ravish Mani
      March 5, 2016

      Dhanyawad, Jyoti Ji. 🙂

      Reply
  6. Maitreni Mishra
    March 1, 2016

    Woah! This is quite an in-depth review of the book! This would surely be one much interesting read. Thanks for sharing Ravish! 🙂

    Reply
    1. Ravish Mani
      March 5, 2016

      Indeed it is. Thanks, Maitreni, for your kind appreciation. 🙂

      Reply
  7. Bushra Muzaffar
    March 1, 2016

    Even this annotation was quite heavy for me. Thanks for explaining in detail many things citing relevant instances from history and present. This research-backed book, as you write about it, is ..I think..worth a read.

    Reply
    1. Saiswaroopa Iyer
      March 1, 2016

      Thanks Bushra. To ease you a bit, the book does not feel that heavy. It is just that Ravish brought up in these couple of pages what I had spread into 390 pages :-).

      Reply
    2. Ravish Mani
      March 5, 2016

      I could understand why it felt heavy for you. And you are right about its worthiness. I think it’s very relevant for present day situation in maintaining peace in the society.

      Reply
  8. Purba Chakraborty
    March 1, 2016

    Looks like a very interesting read. I am putting it to my to-read list. Thanks for the detailed review.

    Reply
    1. Ravish Mani
      March 5, 2016

      I’m sure you’ll like the book. Thanks, Purba, for stopping by. 🙂

      Reply
  9. Mridula Dwivedi
    March 2, 2016

    I hardly ever read mythology, but your review piqued my interest!

    Reply
    1. Ravish Mani
      March 5, 2016

      Well, interest is a good start. May be you will start liking it someday! 😉

      Reply
  10. Shweta Dave
    March 2, 2016

    Yes the review is exhaustive so is my comment going to be dost. This review equips the reader to make a decision to pick the book or not. There are two types of writers, commercial and passionate, passionate being the ones who want to treat their readers specially every single time and you dost are a passionate writer. I remember our discussion around lemon girl (if i am not wrong) review and i am delighted to read this one 🙂 Another beauty of the review lies in your perspective to the review and that makes it complete 🙂 Kudos Ravish 🙂

    Reply
    1. Ravish Mani
      March 5, 2016

      I’m glad that it delights you. I also remember our discussion on my post on the book, Arjuna. We have discussed on so many topics and if we put together all these, it could turn out to be a book in itself. 🙂

      Thanks, Shweta, for stopping by and sharing your views in detail. 🙂

      Reply
  11. Rajesh
    March 3, 2016

    Sounds like a interesting read.

    Reply
    1. Ravish Mani
      March 5, 2016

      Thanks, Rajesh 🙂

      Reply
  12. Anuradha Goyal
    March 3, 2016

    Wow, what an exhaustive review.

    Reply
    1. Ravish Mani
      March 5, 2016

      Thanks, Anuradha, for stopping by. Hope you like the book 🙂

      Reply
  13. Amit Agarwal
    March 3, 2016

    Interesting indeed!
    Thank you Ravish for your exhaustive review:)

    Reply
    1. Ravish Mani
      March 5, 2016

      Thanks, Amit Ji, for stopping by and sharing your views. 🙂

      Reply
  14. Sangeeta Mishra
    March 3, 2016

    I really like ‘your way of reviewing’ the book . The manner you have advocated that Krishna’s theories should be implemented in our lives rather than mere being mentioned or read, is what I liked the most. I, myself, believe in this.
    Your character sketches, relating them to their names, infusing mythology with philosophy and spirituality, all these features have made me more and more interested in reading the book.
    But I didn’t understand the conversion from left wing to right wing of Hindu religion. Could you please shed some light on such conversions. I’m totally unaware.
    Well, it’s a great review. I got to know so many new things about spirituality. It’s as good as reading a book in a nutshell. 🙂 Great work, hats off. 🙂

    Reply
    1. Ravish Mani
      March 5, 2016

      Thanks, Sangeeta Ji, for your kind appreciation. 🙂

      Well, the conversion in the story isn’t from left wing to right wing but from right wing to left wing. In Hindi, from Dakshinachara (Right wing) to Vamachara (Left wing). Vamachara is about Tantric practices like Aghorpanth, Nathpanth, etc. Vamachar rituals include eating meat & fish, drinking wine, and having sexual intercourse.

      If you want more clarification, do let me know. 🙂

      Reply
      1. Sangeeta Mishra
        March 5, 2016

        I know a little about ‘Vamachara’, ‘tamsik pravriti’. Something like it’s explained in ‘Charwaka’ philosophy. Am I right?
        Thank you Ravish for the information. 🙂

        Reply
        1. Ravish Mani
          March 6, 2016

          Tantra (Vamachara) is different from Charvaka. Charvaka is about atheism. But Tantra is about theism. In fact, Tantric scriptures are nothing but talks of Shiva & Parvati. I talked about Tantra & its meaning in my annotation of the book, Anusual, here: http://rvsh.in/ANUsual

          Reply
  15. Dr Sweety Shinde
    March 4, 2016

    Hats off, you can certainly pique interest.

    Reply
    1. Ravish Mani
      March 5, 2016

      Thanks, Sweety, for your kind appreciation. 🙂

      Reply
  16. The book has a strong mythological background and portrays one of the greatest events of Indian mythology- the killing of Narakasura. You’ve viewed the book from all the possible perspectives making it a truly interesting read. An exhaustive all-encompassing review… hats off to you, Ravish… 🙂

    Reply
    1. Ravish Mani
      March 5, 2016

      Apart from execution of plot, the thing I liked the most about the book is its spiritual and psychological treatment.

      Reply
  17. Sunaina Bhatia
    March 6, 2016

    What a detailed analysis of the book. Mythology is a great subject to study. And as you have mentioned, there are ‘interpretations’. Your reading is an in-depth interpretation of the different aspects of the book. I like it that the female protagonist dominates, a trend that has caught up among writers lately. Mythology and women make up an interesting case study.

    Reply
    1. Ravish Mani
      March 6, 2016

      Buddha said, “In the sky there is no distinction of east and west; people create the distinctions out of their own minds and then believe them to be true.”

      As I see, everything is interpretation. The problem begins when one starts to believe his/her interpretation as fact and other’s interpretation as mere interpretation.

      As you also read from heart, I’m sure you’ll like the book. Thanks for stopping by. 🙂

      Reply

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