Asura – tale of the vanquished by Anand Neelakantan is the story of Ravana and his people. Here Ravana is the hero and not the supreme antihero as portrayed in most works. His ten head represents the base emotions of anger, pride, jealousy, happiness, sadness, fear, selfishness, passion, ambition and intellect. Traditional Indian wisdom places importance on the control of one’s emotions and projects the intellect alone as being supreme. The great king Mahabali advises Ravana to shun the nine base emotions and intellect alone to be revered. But Ravana justifies and exults in the possession of all these ten facets as they make him a complete man. His twenty hands denote prowess and power.
The story is narrated by two characters- Ravana himself and Bhadra- an ordinary man of the Asura tribe who plays a vital role in the life of Ravana. The book begins with Ravana lying fatally injured in the battle field expecting death and his recollection of various incidents of his life. Hence the first chapter of the book is aptly titled ‘The End’.
The book describes the Asuras and Devas as two tribes constantly in war with each other. Deva society is caste based while Asura’s is not. (Issue of caste and inequality is discussed at various points). The ancient Asura empire shattered into many warring petty kingdoms as after the banishment of Mahabali into the underworld. In desperation, the Asuras look upto a young saviour Ravana. Ravana was groomed for this cause by Asura guru Brahma and Mahabali. With a will of iron and a fiery ambition to succeed Ravana leads his people from victory to victory and carves out a vast empire from the Devas. Then a series of incidents takes place in Ravana’s life which results in the disintegration of the empire[Authors version is different from the usual]. In his final hours Ravana analyses the actions of those who were associated with him. He regrets misunderstanding some people very close to him and certain decisions taken by him emotionally rather than intellectually.
The book ends on a positive note –Bhadra hoping the words of the lovely song that is sung during Onam becomes true- the golden times like that during the reign of Mahabali when every human was considered equal, when there was perpetual peace and no fraud or disaster. Hence the last chapter is titled ’The Beginning’.
The book will surely make its readers view Ravana and Rama in a different perspective. It is for each reader to judge and decide as to who the hero is and who the villain.
Reviewed by Ms Ashadevi A.