Book title – War of Lanka (Ramachandra Series Book 4) Author – Amish Publisher – HarperCollins
Indian mythology is replete with stories from the two epics – Ramayana and Mahabharata. They are full of such well-etched characters that they are easily identifiable, or even relatable, in some instances. Amish has covered the Ramayana through the Ramachandra series.
The first three books covered the lives of the central characters of Rama, Sita and Ravana, each intersecting each other’s lives at crucial points. Though I’ve read all three, I’ve reviewed only the books on Sita and Ravana, if you want to read them. Book 4 of the Ramachandra series is the ultimate culmination of the series of events over the lifetime of the three protagonists. The War of Lanka is the battle of all battles; of good versus evil, of duty versus pride, of dharma versus adharma.
What I liked about the book
The relationship between Sita and Ravana and Kumbhakaran is explored from a different perspective. As has been revealed in the earlier book on Sita, she is the daughter of Vedavati, a person Ravana holds in great respect and admiration. This results in him treating Sita also with the same reverence and love. Their interactions are filled with warmth, easy comfort and intellectual compatibility.
What was the best part about the book was how each incident that we know of from years of reading the Ramayana has been explained scientifically and not used Rama’s divinity as the cause for every action. From the construction of the Ramsetu (the bridge connecting Lanka to India, and not the latest forgettable Bollywood movie) to the procurement of sanjivani herbs, everything has a logical explanation. I’m not a qualified civil engineer to certify the process of building the bridge but it looked plausible. I mean it’s more acceptable than writing ‘Rama’ on the stones to make them float!
Since war plays an important part in the book, the several small battles were described in such poetic details that it was almost like watching them with your own eyes. The strategies and preparations were part of the process and were interesting to read. It was not just the war but their consequences which can bring a tear or two, or at least make one feel the loss of dear ones. Mandodari’s heart-wrenching outburst on seeing the lifeless body of Indrajit or the unspoken, unexpressed agony of Ravana on Kumbhakaran and Indrajit’s deaths were filled with heartfelt torments.
Ravana is well-read and highly talented, but his image has endured centuries of badgering and got stuck as an evil grotesque person; stereotyped into the crude and uncultured rakshasa. He could play the Rudra veena, a string instrument that he designed and created, and was a writer and poet. A highly misdirected and misunderstood person. Not that his crimes were less or can be ignored but still one feels sorry for Ravana towards the end. if you find the character of Ravana interesting, you should try reading Anand Neelkantan’s Asura.
In the book (and the series), Kumbhakarna is portrayed as a loving, caring and affable person who loves his brother dearly and is totally devoted to him. Only he has the courage to speak his mind to Ravana and is his moral conscience. He warns Ravana against the war but once Ravana decides to go ahead with it, he sticks by him even though he knew how it would end. He is a fierce warrior and respected commander in his own right. Yet during the war, he maintains the kshatriya dharma and treats Hanuman with respect.
On the other hand, is the completely despicable, snivelling and slimy character of Vibhishana. His character has been developed brilliantly and one feels repulsed by him. His need for survival at any cost is the only objective even if it means selling his brother out. I completely share the discomfort with Lakshaman and Bharat.
All the other secondary characters have also been carefully crafted. Arishtanemi, Sursa, the brothers Bharat, Shatrughan and Lakshaman; Angad and Indrajit as the eager to prove heir-apparents, and of course the omnipresent Malayaputras and Vayuputras.
What I didn’t like about the book
The Maryada Purushottam Rama bit went a little overboard. There were instances where Amish could have made minor tweaks to show the human side of Rama, which would have made him more relatable. Yes, Rama is the epitome of all that is good and that has been universally accepted. But he was also a human. Though his insecurities were discussed when he talked about them with Bharat, the language changed every time Amish talked about Rama. It was almost grandiloquent or reverential.
Also, most of the discussions were done using present-day contexts which is totally not acceptable. Our present-day society is in no way similar to the society in those days. So drawing parallels or subtly pointing in that direction is an unwarranted digression. Either way, for a writer of Amish’s calibre and credibility and repertoire of work, such infractions or lapses do not do credit.
Another thing which didn’t sit well with me was that there was a lot of philosophising or justifying. One instance that stands out is the whole conversation between Vashistha, Vishwamitra and Nandini which Vashistha dreams off could have been omitted or reduced in length. It felt out of place and forced into the main context, maybe to increase the volume of the book or to justify/pacify the readers in case someone takes offence (and we have too many of them these days!). Either ways, it kind of slowed the pace of the book.
I feel …
On the whole, a good one-time read especially if you have been following the Ramachandra series. The earlier books in the series are much better developed. This book diluted the standards and got off-track sometimes. Amish tried to fit too many cultural contexts into the story to make it identifiable or relatable to the current age and hence there was an overload in some instances. But do read (you can skip portions if you want) and bring the series to an end.
Looking forward to what’s going to be the next book or series from Amish. In the meantime, grab your copy of the latest War of Lanka, Book 4 of the Ramachandra series. If you haven’t read any of them, then the box set is the best thing to buy. Curl up with a hot cuppa tea and experience the magic of Indian mythology.
Disclaimer: If you purchase any of the books using the links given below then I get an itsy-bitsy commission at no extra cost to you. So go ahead!