Book Review - Ashok : The Lion of Maurya

ASHOK - THE LION OF MAURYA
by Ashok K Banker

Only a select few persona from history have as wide and as huge an impact on Modern India, and Indians in general, than Devanampiya Piyadassi, from the Maurya dynasty. This is one name that actually does reverberate across the length and breadth of the land; this name invites immediate recognition, and sense of pride, a sense of awe, and a sense of deep respect. He does this by the virtue of his deeds which encompass the achievements of a fearsome warrior king, a development focused good monarch, and a deeply spiritual peace-loving ruler of the land.

People may not know his by his full name, but will immediately recognize his better known name : Ashok! Not much is known about the real Ashok; that said, there are extensive surviving literary records, most of them in the manuscripts Ashokaavadaan, Mahaavamsa and Paalivamsa, which as per my readings {Given here - Book Review: Ashok The Great} , are the principal literary sources of his life. {There are others, like the Divyavadan for example} I make this point to underscore that there are massive gaps in the life of Ashok; there are many small contradictions, & a lack of continuity. And the creation a fiction book series based on the life of Devanampiya Piyadassi Ashok  is a laudable effort.

THE BOOK
Image result for ashok the lion of mauryaThe current book, the first in the series, is titled Ashok – The Lion of Maurya {For the life of me I cannot fathom why Indians insist on the trailing “A” when penning proper names in English! To be precise, the actual book is Ashoka – The Lion of Maurya; the trailing A is fine in Maurya due to the following vowel sound!}. Lets be crystal clear here : this is a work of fiction. It comes under historical fiction, and cannot be treated as anything else, as I point out in detail in the review section. This book is based on the early years of his life as a young prince, and traces the internal challenges he faced when young.

THE REVIEW
First, history. Now it is thought that Ashok, in some manuscripts from ancient India, was known as ChandAshok {cruel Ashok} in his early days, before rising to what he became eventually. This is however debated by some historians. Second, his Biological Mother Dharma {Shubhadraangi} has also been debated, though is generally accepted as his mother. Third, his accession to the throne is under discussion, as the accepted version of fratricide and killing may not be right. That discussion is beyond the scope of this review; please read the compilation in the link in the second para above.

Not much is known of his early phase. The sources are the Ashokaavadaan which is a 2nd Century text; the other two are Buddhist texts. There is a clear contradiction in many points – Kaling War, The Coronation etc where the numerous historical, literary and archeological records do not suffice. While his greatness is not in question – the contents of all the sources put together pretty much put that beyond reasonable doubt; the fact remains that there isn’t enough detail present to put together a life story. When reading this series, it is my opinion that readers should keep this uppermost in their minds. We are reading a fictional telling of the story of Ashok the Great.

Thus, I will make no attempt to compare history with this book; there is much we need to learn. The book itself – it is an excellent one, well written, with a very fast pace, action oriented. It tells the story of a prince, who loves his family, and is a devoted and loyal prince to the Emperor {this much seems true as per my readings}, as well as a brother with deep caring for his elder brother Sushim; which is borne out by the inscriptions on the edicts.

It is the story of royal intrigue, internal politics, murder and plotting; this part has been very skillfully put together in a flawless narrative that makes for absorbing reading. It tells the story of a family fighting internal squabbles, as well as external enemies; you get entrapped into the story, the pages pull you in as the plot twists and turns every few pages with a rapidity that is awesome. The story has been crafted really well, and the whole package works quite well. It gives the reader an enthralling fascinating read!

I have placed emphasis on the history and its  gaps  for a reason – we are talking of a legend, one of the finest Indians from Ancient India, a leader & a king whose symbols are the chosen symbols of the Modern Indian State. Given that background, it needs to be stated that the historical record has some gaps,  which the author himself underscores; as also the fact that this is historical fiction. The book is true to the major aspects of history; that is true. Especially, the bonding between the Sushim and Ashok as well as the pressures have been developed really well, which is appreciable.

The series should be interesting to see how this particular and vital relationship is developed, and which road the story now takes from hereon; I am waiting eagerly to see the author’s interpretation. But the start is very promising; Ashok comes across as the one I have read about – not the one in the legends; as does Sushim. You can already see snippets of the more famous Ashok begin to shine through. This  is an approach that is logical, consistent with one side of the argument as I have read it; my references are in the linked Book Review of the book Ashok The Great, which is a compilation of a couple of dozen books by historians on the famous King Ashok the Great. All in all, an excellent effort which has a very promising start to it. Worth a read, definitely so. 

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