Book Review – The legend of Parshu Raam by Dr. Vineet Aggarwal
क्षत्रिय रुधिर मये जगदपगत पापं
स्नपयसि पयसि शमित भव तापं
केशव धृत भ्र्गुपति रूप जय जगदीश हरे
Destroying the sins of the world You bathe it with waters mixed in the blood of Kshatriyas. O Keshava, You in the form of Bhrigupati, O Lord of the world, victory be unto You.
– Jayadeva’s composition
Dr. Vineet Aggarwal’s “Legend of Parshu-Raam” chronicles the genesis of the warrior-Rishi Parshu Raam or the Rama of Battle axe as some scholars call him. Parashurama is revered as the sixth incarnation of Lord Vishnu, who freed the earth from the clutches of those Kshatriyas, who had espoused Adharma.
We all know about the later achievements of the Parashu Rama Avatar, but nowhere is his early life mentioned in a detailed way. This is the gap that Dr. Vineet’s narrative fills through his vivid imagination that brings to life multiple scenes for the reader. He skilfully chisels the different characters, narrating their journeys and bringing to life their relationships.
Drawing from the rich corpus of Hindu Puranic legends, Dr. Vineet begins the story with the interesting circumstance of how the destinies of Brahma-Rishi Vishwamitra and Parshu-Raam intertwine due to the switching of one magical potion by another by Vishwamitra’s sister Satyavathi and her mother. The story remains true to the little-known plot from the scriptures while bringing out the hitherto unknown journey to the making of the legend of Parshu-Raam.
To those, who have read the author’s debut novel about Vishvamitra, the strained relationship between Rishi Ruchika and Satyavathi, the daughter of Gadhi would have struck a chord. I was in awe of Satyavathi’s strong core and even partly resented Ruchika. The legend of Parshuraam is where readers like me would find Satyavathi getting her due. Reading the episode had made me a huge admirer of her son Jamadagni (and just imagine how his son Parshu Raam would turn out to be!). Renuka is another female character, who fills the book with joy of innocence and an undeniable vibrancy. Sathyavathi and Renuka could be viewed as complementarily opposing mother in law and daughter in law. Something that the female readers would appreciate!
The political struggle of various clans and warring tribes leads to the crux of the plot, which is very well portrayed and one can only marvel at the in-depth research that would have been required for recreating the era. The Nagas, Urags, Asurs and humans of various dynasties clash and collaborate with each other to achieve their own means. It is in the middle of this macro political churn that the birth of Parshu Raam takes place, with nobody making the wildest guess that he would be the one to rein in the dance of Adharma in Bharata.
Another noteworthy aspect of the story is the rise (and the subsequent fall) of Arjun Kartavirya. If not for the protagonist Raam, who, by all means, is endearing, the book should be read to understand this enigmatic anti-hero (or so I am forced to call him) Arjun. Most existing legends start with an arrogant, tyrannical figure, when they start the tale. Dr. Vineet however, has taken care to bring out the hero and the very deserving emperor out of Arjun before charting the imminent fall. Readers can’t help feeling bad for him while realizing how the loss of discretion can result in a rapid fall, bringing all the hard-earned achievements to a zilch.
Ravan, who we traditionally know for his demonic acts like antagonizing Rishis, abduction of Seeta as well as his very contradictory persona of being a devout Shiva-worshipper makes a surprising appearance defining the crux of the plot. Saying anything more would amount to spoiling the story and I would urge the readers to explore this ‘new’ face of Ravan that the author has given him.
The social commentary about the Chaturvarna system and Parshu-Raam’s reformist steps about certain rituals also make for a contemplative reading. It may be pertinent to mention that the book is a sequel to Dr. Vineet’s earlier one, Vishwamitra – The man who dared to challenge the gods. The rise of Vishwamitra to the pedestal of Brahmarshi is one of the early examples of Varna ‘transgression’ & the emergence of Parshu-Raam, a Brahmin boy as a warrior who defeats corrupt Kshatriyas could be seen as a converse ‘transgression’. In a way, I see it as a negation of hierarchy (if any) and hailing the action of ‘rising to the occasion’.
The narration is refreshingly engaging as well as simple with no dull moment anywhere. Pace, description, action and dialogue is well balanced. We also see traces of characteristics prevalent in the high fantasy genre in the scenes with Takshak. However, the plot, understandably did not allow for more of the characteristic descriptive indulgence. I would love to see the author attempting the genre and giving wings to his creativity.
Reading the book, I was reminded of the classic Bhagawan Parashurama by KM Munshi, the founder of Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan and could not help comparing both at places. While KM Munshi took a lot of creative liberties, creating his own vivacious characters or giving space to lesser known characters, Dr. Vineet stuck to the larger plot line and expanded on the dialogue and character aspects. Being a staunch admirer of KM Munshi’s classics known for their thought provoking social commentary, it is actually tough for me to acknowledge an alternative story telling of the same story. But to the reader’s delight, Dr. Vineet does the same with lesser plot deviations.