Wednesday, 11 December 2019

A Taut, Gripping Tale

Updated: July 17, 2010 2:07 pm

The book is a fiction set in the era of great emperor Ashoka, unarguably one of the greatest kings rule who India. But one thing I can say for sure that the book is a fast-paced page-turner. This book is a historical novel and therefore it required the writer to do research to understand the period and the historical figures of that time. However, the book is more fiction than historical treatise. This epic tale begins as prince Ashoka, viceroy of Takshashila, fights his half-brother, Sushim to claim the throne.

            It is worth mentioning that after reading the book, some readers might feel that the writer has given undue space to warfare and battle tactics. The writer, however, counters this view by saying that battles have occupied a large part of Indian history. Indians have lost their country to foreign invaders on several occasions, not only because of internal dissensions, but because of their undue reliance on static warfare and frontal assaults. This was never illustrated more dramatically than on April 21, 1526, when Babur, the founder of the Mugul empire, debouched on the field of Panipat with scarcely 12,000 troops and defeated Ibrahim Lodi, the Sultan of Delhi, who had a force of 100,000 (including 1,000 elephants).

            Narrating the description about the Kalinga war, in one chapter, the author describes that preparations were in full swing for the war with Kalinga, the only independent state left in the country. There were of course the Cholas and Pandyas in the far south, but they were much too remote and had long since offered at least a token submission to the Mauryan empire as a matter of prudence, if not necessity. Kalinga, on the other hand, had always been an eyesore to Magadha. It occupied a fairly large area on the eastern seabed and was efficiently run. While its king, Satyadeva was known to be an ardent Buddhist and a pacifist, he insisted on maintaining his independence and on being treated as an equal by the mighty Mauryan emperor. But after a prolonged battle, Ashoka conquered Kalinga. But appalled by the bloodshed of the Kalinga war, Ashoka turns pacifist. So much so that he marries the widow of Kalinga’s former king and embraces Buddhism.

            In the book, the sources on Ashoka were inscriptions carved on the stone pillars and rocks during his reign, and Buddhist legends. There is also a source, which described conditions in the Mauryan empire, which is the classical accounts (from Greek and Roman writers), and the Arthashastra, the manual on polity, ascribed to Kautilya. The Arthashastra was said to have been composed by Kautilya, Chandragupta’s astute mentor and Prime Minister. That Chandragupta’s administration was run more or less on the lines advocated therein, is shown by the extant fragments on Megasthenes’ Indica. That the administration could not have been very different at the time of his son, Bindusara, and grandson, Ashoka, is clear from certain references in Ashoka’s edicts. In a nutshell, the book, which contains intrigue, romance, adventure, religion and philosophy, traces the dramatic trajectory of history.

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By Ashok Kumar

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