Rise of Kali: Duryodhana’s Mahabharata (Ajaya Book 2)
IT’S NOT easy to reverse roles and challenge entrenched assumptions, especially when it involves a deep-rooted and centuries-old institution like the Mahabharata. The epic narrative of the Kurukshetra war, told and retold through the ages, has always been about human emotions, failings, of characters good and bad—but constructed on a solid ethical base—and questions of life and death that are not always easy to answer. Hence, when an author takes on the mantle of putting things in a different perspective and adding newer dimensions to the prism
of dharma, the effort becomes quite commendable.
“There is nothing in India that has sparked more debate than the concept of dharma… The Mahabharata is an example of each side believing they had dharma with them and they fought for that,” writes Anand Neelakantan, author of Rise of Kali: Duryodhana’s Mahabharata, who earlier gave voice to Ravana in his national bestseller Asura.
“My attempt here has been to show that another side exists to our stories, as important and relevant as the conventional tale,” he writes, clarifying why he likes to write from the perspective of the anti-hero—the vanquished.
In the second installment of his highly-acclaimed Ajaya series, Neelakantan continues to defend his Kaurava ‘heroes’. Book one ends in the middle of the infamous dice game—a key incident, which is often considered a definitive moment in the story of Mahabharata and one of the driving reasons that ultimately led to the Kurukshetra war. Rise of Kali takes off from the dramatic point when Draupadi is shamefully disrobed by Dushashana, the younger brother of crown prince Duryodhana, in full public view.
In Neelakantan’s Mahabharata, Duryodhana is also Suyodhana, one which means ‘great warrior’ or ‘he who fights well’. Considering the original work was written mostly from the Pandavas’ point of view, readers will admire the countless ways in which the author makes a hero out of a villain. Even the staunchest challenger of Duryodhana’s acts will be forced to rethink, if not admire, the Kaurava prince’s story, which Neelakantan successfully manages to weave through fictional episodes of heroism and nobility.
The author attempts at gaining the reader’s sympathies when he quotes Duryodhana: “I want to do a hundred thousand things. I want the whole world to love me for my fairness; I want to be known as a righteous man who did not care for caste, who gave Karna, the noblest man of all, his life.” Partially justifying the public humiliation of Draupadi, Duryodhana is quoted as saying: “She deserved it. The woman deserved every bit of it… Was it so wrong to pay her back in her own coin? It was her husband, not I, who pledged her in the game of dice… They will not hate me for what I did to that woman. There is no one who deserves the throne more than I. It is a new day, a new beginning.”
After the war ends, Neelakantan forces Dharmaputra Yudhishtra to question: “Why has good not triumphed over evil? Or were we evil and this is Suyodhana’s revenge?… I have always followed dharma. If what the seers say is true and dharma alone wins, then I have lost.” Many such instances compel the reader to question what he or she may have read in the ancient texts. But, as the author writes, “Every answer should give birth to a hundred questions. That is the mark of a confident civilisation…”