5 Homegrown Novels That Challenge Tradition & Illuminate Hindu Mythology
Be it the vilified queen Kaikeyi who engineers the exile of her stepson Prince Rama or the dark complexioned Draupadi whose beauty had no equal on Earth, Hindu legends are being vigorously recontextualised in the post #MeToo era in an attempt to retrofit the sociological underpinnings of gender dynamics. This paradigm shift is not merely a literary trend but a reflection of changing attitudes and a testament to the enduring relevance of epics like Ramayana and Mahabharata. In November 2010 (during the Mumbai Literary Festival), renowned authors of mainstream literature such as Amish Tripathi and Ashwin Sanghi articulated the that when a nation and its populace attain self-assurance and a sense of their global standing, they manifest this by delving into their intrinsic folklore and tales.
Writers like R. K. Narayan and Devdutt Pattanaik are household names in distilling the fundamental essence of pivotal myths and ingeniously forging their unique interpretations, firmly imprinting these timeless narratives with their personal touch. Here are 5 Homegrown novels that attempt something similar.
I. Kaikeyi by Vaishnavi Patel (2022)
Within the original framework, Queen Kaikeyi is often depicted as the antagonist, her actions portrayed as driven by jealousy and ambition. Vaishnavi Patel's retelling stands as a modern exploration of one of the most complex characters in the Ramayana. The novel delves deep into the psyche of the eponymous protagonist, offering a nuanced portrayal that humanises her as a woman who seeks to assert her agency, making choices that align with her values and desires.
II. The Liberation of Sita by Volga (2016)
This compelling novel takes a feminist approach to Sita's story. It offers readers a narrative that is not defined solely by her relationship with Rama but by her own inner journey and self-discovery. It explores her relationships with other women in the epic, such as Shurpanakha and Trijata, highlighting the solidarity and strength that emerges from these connections. She questions the patriarchal norms that seek to confine her. Volga's version reminds us that even within the most ancient of tales, there are untold stories waiting to be told.
III. Asura by Anand Neelakantan (2012)
In the conventional retelling of the Ramayana, Ravana is often depicted as a demon king with ten heads, symbolising his unrivalled arrogance and cruelty. Anand Neelakantan's Asura offers readers a captivating vantage point that overlooks Ravana's personal experiences that shaped him, examining caste-based discrimination and power dynamics belying the Indian collective consciousness. Neelakantan is also a critic of the stereotypical hero's journey, humbly questioning whether Lord Rama, the revered protagonist was always virtuous in his actions.
IV. Palace of Illusions by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni (2008)
Instead of focusing on the epic's grandeur, Divakaruni delves deep into the psyche of Draupadi, also known as Panchaali. Through her eyes, we witness a fresh and intimate examination of a character who has often been overshadowed by her male counterparts. Divakaruni's lyrical prose and vivid descriptions transform the ancient world of kings and queens, gods and demons into a primal battleground where the victory is claimed through quiet dignity and human resilience.
V. Karna Mrityunjaya by Shivaji Sawant (1989)
One of the central themes of Karna Mrityunjaya is the quest for identity. Karna, born to Kunti and the sun god Surya, struggles with his sense of belonging and his desire to be acknowledged by his birth mother and the world at large. His journey is a poignant exploration of the human need for acceptance and the lengths one will go to find it. Author Shivaji Sawant's layered portraiture of Karna evokes empathy for this tragic warrior, with his loyalty to Duryodhana and the Kauravas driving him to test the boundaries of ethics and righteousness.
Through modern classics like these, mythology continues to evolve; allowing us to explore the perennial themes and dilemmas that have shaped our cultural heritage for centuries.