Opening the Great Indian Epic

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The Forest of Stories: Book 1 - Ashok Banker, book reviewFor someone with cross cultural roots – his mother is Sri Lankan-British and a Christian and his father a Gujarati Hindu – Ashok Banker has rediscovered himself as an explorer of the fantasy world of Indian mythology. He began as one of India’s first writers of thrillers in English, then moved on to science fiction and mythology, crossing new milestones with every book. Banker says that his interest in the epics was revived by the fact that while the world of literature and films and television and music was overflowing of references to Greek mythology and history, Roman Gods, western gods, Christian theology and names, Jewish names, there were very few references to Hindu gods or myths. Or if there were, they were garbled. He therefore decided to delve into Hindu mythology and found it all the more interesting because unlike Christianity, Hinduism did not exist as a single defined religion.

Banker is known for his Ramayana and Krishna Coriolis series and now has moved on to the Mahabharata, irreverently referred to by Banker as his ‘MBA series’. The Mahabharata is of course the epic to end all epics. And when written by a writer who has almost single handedly revived reading interest in the epics, is bound to cause a stir.

The Forest of Stories heralds another ambitious publishing project – it is the first of a series of 18 volumes. It opens dramatically. Deep in the haunted jungle of Naimisha-vanm at the ashram of Kulapati Shaunaka, a weary dust caked traveller arrives with grievous news: Maharishi Krishna Dweipayana Vyasa has shuffled off his mortal coil. However, even as the traveller announces this with all the formality that Sanskrit rituals demand, he lessens the grief by telling those assembled that Vyasa has left the legacy of an epic narrative poem called the Maha Bharata. Urged on by those present, Suta, the traveller begins to tell the story that he has learnt and realises in the telling that the tale is all that matters and not the teller because his physical starts dissolving.

Banker follows the Sanskrit slokas and his first book tells of Parasurama’s destruction of the kshatriyas, the creation of Vishnu’s mount Garuda, Jamadagni’s great ceremony and the non Kalidasa version of the Shakuntala story, to name a few. Occasionally the stories track back to follow the lives of characters mentioned but not expanded on.

Lovers of myths will read on without the promise of ‘3D Surround Sound’ or even without the enticement of ‘MBA’ for Maha Bharata which seems to have been thrown in to tempt the younger generation of Chetan Bhagat fans. Chetan Bhagat fans would presumably prefer a modern mix of Hindi and English and sms language to digest their Mahabharata but for the interested and those who prefer to read their epics in prose rather than in formal verse, Banker’s Forest of Stories is more than adequate as an introduction and should keep interest roused till the eighteenth volume.

The Forest of Stories by Ashok Banker
Published by Westland Tranquebar in India, 2012

Buy book online
Buy book online
The Forest of Stories
by Ashok Banker

One Comment on "Opening the Great Indian Epic"

  1. Harvee (Book Dilettante)
    17/03/2012 at 12:03 Permalink

    I ha e alwlays wanted to read the Indian epics. This book would be a great way to start.

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Written by Anjana Basu