By Mukunda Rao, published by HarperCollins, New Delhi, released on 20th March 2018.
Available in all major book stores across India and at online outlets.
Praise for Shambuka Rama: Three Tales Retold:
I found Shambuka Rama very interesting. Has anyone dealt with this Rama? And so familiarly? The slow pace of the story works wonderfully well. I also was fascinated by the Valmiki-Rama-Shambuka conjunction. It is a most unusual story. Another Bheema also held me. Again a story of great credibility. Vyasa entering as the creator, the dramatist and his characters getting away from him? Fascinating!
-Shashi Deshpande, award-winning novelist
* * *
‘In Mukunda Rao’s Shambuka Rama: Three Tales Retold, we confront several fundamental issues that are at the same time philosophical, political and existential. In Shambuka Rama we behold a Rama who is exhausted by the demands of the public sphere, confused by the twists and turns of life that leads to deep self-doubt, unsettled by philosophical questions surrounding the idea of Truth, and, above all, disturbed by what constitutes his self as a human being. The wanderings lead Rama from experience to experience and ultimately to disturbing yet cleansing realisations.
‘In several ways the Shambuka Rama connects with the spirit of our times in a radical manner. The consolidation of the caste system, the increasing brutality of the ruling State and the incorporation of philosophical traditions by communal forces masquerading as protectors of culture and social values, the agony of sensitive individuals concerned about the welfare of human communities are all foregrounded through the utter helplessness of Rama who, after listening to Sita, begins to lose faith in Kshatra—of resorting to violent action to protect dharma.
‘Mukunda Rao’s Shambuka the tapasvi is a terrific combination of a maverick and a wise sage, who offers the exiled ruler a new vision of life. He leads Rama to understand that there is no single truth that can be upheld as the ‘Truth’ of the universe or of life itself. This radical view of life, though not new to Indian thought, the story projects most effectively by working from within the plural philosophical Indian traditions, which eventually enables Rama to reach a position that maybe termed as anti-masculine, anti-State and anti-singular truth.’
Manu Chakravarthy, noted author and critic.
* * *
‘Shambuka Rama: Three Tales Retold are truly “most unusual stories” and what an imaginative revisioning of Bheema, Duryodhana, Vyasa, Valmiki, Rama and Shambuka! I am still in that mythopoeic world and I must say it was a very enriching experience. A veritable cornucopia of revisioned stories from two of our great epics.’ Vaishali K.S, noted teacher and translator.
Reviews for Shambuka Rama
Book Review: Shambuka Rama by Mukunda Rao
Name of the book- Shambuka Rama: Three Tales Retold
Author- Mukunda Rao
After their miraculous escape from the House of Lac during their exile, The Pandavas along with their mother, Kunti, take refuge in a forest which is the residence of the tribes and the demons. It is in these same precarious lands that Bheema falls in love and marries Hidimbi and conceive Ghatotkacha. Finally, he questions himself and everything around him, deciding to stay back. Nothing anybody says is enough to move him to leave them, not even Kunti. Will he neglect the duties everyone expects of him or will he be convinced otherwise?
Duryodhana lies dying on the battlefield, being unjustly defeated by Bheema, while he contemplates all that culminated to the great war, all his actions and those of his enemies and allies. He reflects on dharma and adharma and on the truth. Meanwhile, the final leg of the battle brews and the clash of the ultimate weapons might destroy the world and everything in it.
Rama, on his exile from Ayodhya, comes across Valmiki’s ashram in the forest. There they encounter Shambuka, a shudra, who has exiled himself after he had been held accountable for his guru’s death. In the final story, Rama indulges in self-reflection, aided by the great Shambuka.
Shambuka Rama by Mukunda Rao is an assortment of three tales from The Ramayana and The Mahabharata. The stories are individualised. Rao narrates them masterfully from various perspectives, delving into details unfrequented by most other previous narratives.
There are hardly any supernatural aspects to the three tales. Mukunda Rao ushers his readers to share a perspective which brings out the humaneness in some of the grandest characters in mythology. He discusses their dilemmas, the continuous mental conflict and he proves that at the end of the day they are all humans. The stories are narrated with gusto, Rama, Bheema, Duryodhana and all the title characters sharing their depression, feeling of worthlessness and incompetence, which makes the book a work of realism.
Secondly, the book narrates the stories from various perspectives; we find the characters painted in different shades and colours, allowing us to form our own opinions about them. The three stories, apparently singular, are linked by their quest for the absolute truth, understanding the thin line that distinguishes dharma from adharma, right from wrong.
The woman characters in the stories are unremarkable. Compared to the males, they are meek, almost with no opinions, who accept the unjustified forms of society willingly. However, Rao sheds new light, asking his readers to question and assess them. There are hints of Kunti and Draupadi having a more negative impact on the Mahabharata war than normally surmised. Though Sita is supposed to be a crucial character in Ramayana, she is just a minor support in the story which revolves around the moral dilemmas faced by Rama and the way he recovers from it. Her personality undergoes a change in the story- from being mild and submissive to strong- but not enough to impress.
Here is an excerpt from the book that brutally summarizes the situation of the world even today, something that really struck me:
“Listen sisters, listen brothers:
When they see breasts and long hair,
They shout ‘woman’.
When they see moustache and beard,
They call it ‘man’.
What do they know?”
This is a book that progresses through the road of mythology, literature, philosophy, proving that everything comes to nothing and that right and wrong and dharma and adharma are in fact two sides of the same coin.
* * *
Review #706: in Bookstop corner blog
Shambuka Rama: Three Tales Retold by Mukunda Rao
BY ADITI SAHA
“If you are unable to find the truth right where you are,
where else do you expect to find it?” — Dōgen
Rama, Lakshmana and Sita chance upon Valmiki’s ashram in the forest. But what is the shudra Shambuka doing there? As Duryodhana lies dying on the battlefield of Kurukshetra, he reflects on all that brought the world to this pass, his guilt and that of his enemies, his loyalties and those of his friends and allies. As the story flashes back and forth on the last moments of the Great War, dharma and adharma merge and blur. In the forest, during the exile of the Pandavas, Bhima, married to Hidimba, compelled by his love for his son, Ghatotkacha, decides to stay back. Even his mother’s anger and his elder brother’s command will not sway him. Mukunda Rao tells three classic stories from the epics, shedding new light on them, illuminating corners that we haven’t looked at before. Shambuka Rama: Three Tales Retold is a powerful blend of spiritual search, philosophy and mythology.
The five brothers and their mother have narrowly escaped from the murder attempt on their lives by their cousin brother, and is walking towards the forest of Maya, where they are advised to hide for a few days. But in this very same forest, amidst of life-threatening dangers and monsters, the second Pandava brother, Bhima, loses his heart to a former monster turned into a divine woman named Hidimba and eventually their love story blossoms, and finally resulting in the birth of their son, Ghatotkacha, that compels Bhima to stay back in that forest.
Mukunda Rao, an Indian writer, has penned a compelling mythological book of short stories called Shambuka Rama: Three Tales Retold, inspired and taken straight out of the great Indian epics namely, the Ramayana and the Mahabharata. The stories are about Bhima who chances upon the female rakhshas (monster), Hidimba and decides to stay back in the forest of Maya, Duryodhan who ponders on the Great War and the pain that it brought upon the world and about Rama who during his exile meets Valmiki and Shambuka Rama, forcing him to quench for the truth.
Duryodhan is pondering over adharma and how could the Great war in the epic Mahabharata could have been avoided. Even Yudhisthira wonders on whether evil can only be fought with evil. Whereas in Ramayana, Rama is pondering about the real meaning of truth with the help of Valmiki and Shambuka Rama. The deeper meaning of truth will set him free, but why is a Shudra man lurking in a village of hermit is what is bothering Rama more than the truth.
The three classic tales are spun really tastefully and interestingly by the author, that will provoke the readers to think beyond the concepts of truth, love and evil. The philosophy of life is explained in a simplistic and realistic manner that will not only leave the readers engaged but will also enlighten them about life. The author strikingly portrays the three stories under different life and through a different approach, hence it becomes easier for the readers to look between the lines for its true meaning.
The writing style of the author is quite coherent and is laced with deep, moving emotions. The author’s narration of the great Indian epics are done in a vivid manner, as the dialogues between the characters are not only realistic and thoughtful, but are also extremely captivating enough to keep the readers glued to the book. The considerably fast pace keeps the story flowing through the meaningful stories of some of the great mythological characters.
The characters from the book are very well etched out by the author in this book. From Bhima’s convincing demenaor towards his family and son, Rama’s confusing demeanor about truth and the real reason behind Shambuka Rama’s presence in that village and Duryodhan’s regretful consicence towards the war and pain he caused to his cosuin’s family. Even the supporting female characters are also strikingly portrayed from Draupadi to Kunti to Sita, in this book.
In a nutshell, this is a must read book for all the mythology loving freaks, as the stories in the book will satisfy you to your very core.
A very enlightening read!
‘Shambuka Rama’ review: epics brought down to earth
MAY 26, 2018 16:00 IST
Vyasa and Valmiki watch their creations take on lives of their own
Mukunda Rao’s Shambuka Rama: Three Tales Retold is not the usual retelling of episodes from the epics. Instead it asks the reader to look at the choices people make. Three simple stories that leave the reader’s brain buzzing with queries, thoughts and more.
‘Another Bheema’ portrays the second Pandava not as a man as ready to eat as he is to kill. In Rao’s hands, Bheema is a sensitive man, capable of great anger and violence but also of great tenderness. After the Pandavas escape from the house of lac, Bheema finds some measure of peace in his marriage to Hidimba. When it’s time to leave and go to Ekachakra, Bheema decides that he does not want to leave his wife and son.
In ‘Sanjaya Speaks’, the battle may have ended but the war continues. Duryodhana lies battered and dying. Unable to say a word to his parents or wife, he finds he cannot stay silent when his son, Durjaya, swears to kill his father’s killers. But he has already unleashed Ashwattama, Kripa and Kritavarma to take revenge on the Pandavas.
‘Shambuka Rama’, the titular story, features an anguished, disillusioned Rama. At Jabali’s ashram, he is told to “go southwards for 10 yojanas. You will find what you have been seeking for. Trust your instincts.” Soon after, he meets Narada, who warns him to “beware of sceptical thinkers and wild cats. Think twice, think thrice, do not trust your instincts.” What Rama, Lakshmana and Sita find is a hermitage, but the people are not what they expect. Sita and Lakshmana settle down quickly among the renegades and heretics, but Rama struggles with views that seem to go against all that he has been taught.
Given the veneration with which the epics are treated, it is interesting to see Vyasa and Valmiki as authors watching their creations take on lives of their own. Vyasa is anguished that his years of hard work will come to naught if Bheema walks out. Valmiki, on the other hand, is watching his character Rama evolve. At the end, I wonder: what would have been if these had been just stories and nothing more?
Shambuka Rama; Mukunda Rao, HarperCollins, ₹299
Book Review: Shambuka Rama by Mukunda Rao|The trivial details we all missed|
Blurb (as on Goodreads):
Rama, Lakshmana and Sita chance upon Valmiki’s ashram in the forest. But what is the shudra Shambuka doing there? As Duryodhana lies dying on the battlefield of Kurukshetra, he reflects on all that brought the world to this pass, his guilt and that of his enemies, his loyalties and those of his friends and allies. As the story flashes back and forth on the last moments of the Great War, dharma and adharma merge and blur. In the forest, during the exile of the Pandavas, Bhima, married to Hidimba, compelled by his love for his son, Ghatotkacha, decides to stay back. Even his mother’s anger and his elder brother’s command will not sway him … Mukunda Rao tells three classic stories from the epics, shedding new light on them, illuminating corners that we haven’t looked at before. Shambuka Rama: Three Tales Retold is a powerful blend of spiritual search, philosophy and mythology.
Shambuka Rama contains three tales- 2 from Mahabharata and 1 from Ramayana. The book gives a philosophical touch to these mythological tales and poses some basic and valid questions to its readers.
The first story is about Bheema, who has married Hidimbi and has a child Ghatothkach. But Bheema can’t live with them forever in the forest because of his ‘Dharma’ as the prince of Hastinapura. But is it ‘dharma’ to leave your wife and child in the forest, alone and to fend for themselves? Kunti is incomplete without her sons and hence, isn’t it unfair for her to ask Bheema to live without his son? While these might be tiny developments in a huge saga, these events are what shaped the characters, who are mere pawns in the “Mahabharata”
The second story talks about Duryodhana, lying half-dead near a lake and thinking about his decisions and ‘karma’. Pandavas are proud of their win and Krishna- the one loved by all is provoking them to destroy the Kuru clan. Each soul is in a dilemma and everyone wants revenge. But what does revenge bring with itself? Mass destruction. Loss of lives at a level that is unimaginable and unfathomable.
The final story has been taken from Ramayana and it a part of the first year of exile. Rama, Sita, and Laxmana come across Sudra Shambuka, who knows the religious texts by heart but was driven away from his own city- Ayodhya because he was born of a Shudra Womb. On the other hand, Rama has identity issues and he continues questioning himself and his life as a Prince. All of this makes a great tale about the understanding of “Brahmins” and the reason for their existence.
Shambuka Rama also gives you an overview of these epic events along with the standard thought of existential and identity crisis. Written in simple language, the text is capable of making you ponder over events that were once considered insignificant, but these same events shaped the personalities of there great Kshatriya warriors.
A mythology lover’s paradise, this book is all you need to understand the depts of mythology and that, it is more than a tale of good and bad.