Elegantly woven, The Rise of Hastinapur is a worthy successor to the equally engaging The Winds of Hastinapur. Throwing light on the importance of women’s presence in the time of the Mahabharata, The Rise of Hastinapur brilliantly captures the lives of Amba, Kunti and Gandhari, giving you a comprehensive view of the characters of the great epic.
To be frank, I had minimal knowledge about the Mahabharata before I read these two books and I’m not proud of it. The fact that a person who is not well-versed in the Epic, such as me, can now write down the characters’ names and draw family trees with panache, reflects highly on the author’s ability to skillfully penetrate any reader’s mind.
In The Rise of Hastinapur, Sharath Komarraju brilliantly portrays the early signs of women empowerment, egged on by eminent sages like High Sage Parashurama who tells Amba: A priestess is slave to no man. In addition to the obvious delight that the book provides to us women, telling us in no uncertain ways that we shaped the past, we shape the present and we will shape the future, Sharath Komarraju has also crafted sections that have detailed and impressive descriptions of weaponry and tactics to cutthroat precision. For example, the fight between Parashurama and Bhishma.
In a book full of brilliant allusions, the only niggling worry is the confusion between who the author is trying to refer to. In dialogues of Kunti’s story that say “your king”, we get lost trying to understand if the king is of Shurasena or of Kunti. Also, certain doubts arise when referring to some characters like, “Is the person a he or a she?” For example, Agnayi. In some places, the author refers to Agnayi as “waved HIM away” and in some places, Agnayi is referred to as “a pink silk bundle in HER arms”. It might be that I am missing what the author is trying to say in less than obvious terms, but that’s what I thought.
We hear of women who crave for careers and to build their own legacy; those who do not think of marriage. But in this age, we forget that women who want the opposite, exist too. Women like Gandhari, so exquisitely put forth by the author, who had to take up the throne at a young age, but yearn for someone by their side; yearn for marriage. It’s amazing how subtly Komarraju has woven the wants and needs of Gandhari. You don’t realize all this until you are well into her story but when you do, you want to hit yourself because it has been glaring you in the face all along!
The book has an eerie ability to sway your loyalties. It is not strange for you to sympathize with the enemy or loathe a character you knew of thought was good, when you see their behaviors varying with time. You get a sense of strong vindication when you see the object of your sympathies rising.
All in all, The Rise of Hastinapur is a literary gem! Sharath Komarraju expertly weaves storylines together at a steady and gripping pace to end the story/stories. In the end, the brilliant narrative leaves you asking for more!