Saturday, 13 October 2012

The Secret of the Nagas

Cover to the Secret of the Nagas

Last July, I wrote this post and this post about my fascination to Amish Tripathi’s first book of the Shiva Trilogy: Immortals of Meluha. I was so impressed by it that i showed the book to one of my best friends (before reading the whole lot, actually), and I got another Amish fan. We decided to purchase the second instalment, The Secret of the Naga off eBay or Amazon. Unfortunately, the only available copies are in India, and they don’t ship overseas. Why oh why, that is the big question here.

Anyway, after bugging and begging my Indian friend, she sent me two packs of Immortals of Meluha and The Secret of the Nagas from Two Nagas for myself, one Meluha for my friend, another one for her friend who wants to read it too. The books arrived last Monday. I delivered my friend’s share immediately that evening, and started reading that night. I finished the whole book in three nights, on Wednesday night (actually, half an hour after midnight of Thursday). 

Below is my review and spoilers for ‘The Secret of the Nagas’. It contains heavy spoilers, so you better stop reading if you plan to read the book without spoilers. By the way, Naga here refers to people with deformities, hence outcast by both the Suryavanshi (Meluha) and Chandravanshi (Swadweep). Naga here doesn’t mean ‘the dragon’, as is in the Indonesian language.

I like The Secret of the Nagas. Unlike its predecessor, Naga isn’t loaded with romance, perhaps because Shiva has finished chasing Sati. But it doesn’t mean that Shiva and Sati had grown cold. They are still pretty much in love, tho they did have their estrangement moments in the Naga book. But the Naga book itself is more action-packed and filled with more mysteries than the Meluha book. 

I have many favourite characters in Immortals of Meluha. The first one is of course Shiva-ji himself and Lady Sati. I also love Nandi, Veerbhadra and Bhrahaspati. In the second book, Shiva had grown into his role as the Mahadev; taking charge and making difficult decisions. Sati was still the strong woman I love in the first book, plus more. But, unexpectedly, my new favourite characters for The Secret of the Nagas are the Naga himself and the Queen of the Naga. 

Huh? How come?... But, but, they are EVIL! They KILL people!

The Naga, as depicted in the Shiva Trilogy trailers

Truthfully, when I was reading Meluha, I was already ambiguous with the Naga character, for although the earlier description f his portrayed him as a ruthless killer, he unexpectedly saved two women from being eaten by crocodiles. The Naga also displayed some hurt and disappointment, uncharacteristic of cold-blooded killer. Amazon’s spoilers of the first few pages of The Secret of the Nagas also showed him displaying concern over Sati’s minor injuries. Seriously, at one point, I actually thought that the Naga fancied Sati!

Then, as I read the Naga book further, I realised that this character really isn’t what we’ve been shown so far. Yes, he has killed. But there’s more to it than meets the eye. Is he actually someone we’ve been introduced to in the first book? My bet went to Brahaspati, the chief scientist of Meluha, who suffered terrible death during the destruction of Mt Mandar. It was a fishy event. The Somra-producing factory in Mt Mandar was obliterated. Shiva and his troop found so many unidentified body parts. True, there was gruesome death. But wouldn’t it be easy to fabricate the death of a person under such circumstances?  

But if Brahaspati was THE Naga, what was his motive? And it actually cannot be, because the Naga had been described without his mask, and he did have deformities (thus, he was labelled as a Naga). Would Brahaspati be the main leader of the Naga, then? Despite his appearance as a normal person?

But apparently, it wasn’t the case. After the birth of his and Sati’s son (named Kartik, after Sati’s confidant Kritikka) in Kashi, Shiva departed to Branga to find more lead about the Nagas. Sati and Kartik were left behind because Kartik wasn’t old enough for long distance travel. While Shiva was in Branga (and encountered a bandit-turned-devotee called Parshuram), Sati had several adventures of her own. One of them involving a large group of lions attacking a village in the Kashi territory. Since the lions already killed people, Sati decided to help. Yet, she underestimated the size and ferocity of the lions (led by a liger, a breed between a tiger and a lioness). Sati almost met her death if not rescued by the Naga leader and his troops. 

Then, the second biggest secret of this second book was revealed. 


The Naga’s mask fell during the fight (he was actually badly injured too), revealing a man whose head was the head of an elephant. Sati was stunned (not as stunned as I was), particularly when the Naga claimed that his ugly feature was the reason behind Sati’s abandonment.

Yes, Ladies and Gents, the Naga was actually Sati’s elder son. Thought to be stillborn (an event which led to Sati being labelled as a Vikrama, an outcast), the baby was actually alive. However, due to his ‘deformity’, Emperor Daksha sent the baby to Panchavati and fabricated a story about the stillborn baby. Sati was then labelled  a Vikrama; but that was (at least to Daksha) considered a better fate than being exiled to Panchavati with her ‘deformed’ son. 

A beautiful wooden statue of Lord Ganesh

After the Naga’s form was revealed, it was easy for me to guess what his real name was. Ganesh. My favourite Lord Ganesh, the Removal of Obstacles, Lord of Wisdom. But this Ganesh wasn’t the pacifier and happy-go-lucky God that I usually worship. This Ganesh was bitter due to the injustice he had experienced since his birth. I feel really sorry for him, for he really didn’t deserve to be treated like an outcast (who did, who does, by the way?). 

Apparently, Ganesh wasn’t the only family who had been hidden from Sati’s knowledge. Turned out, Sati had a twin sister, who had deformities of her own, hence being exiled to Panchavati since birth. The sister had dark skin, exoskeleton and a second pair of hands. Guess the name of the sister? Yep, Kali.

In the story, Kali was the Queen of the Naga; Ganesh was her second in command. After learning about them, Sati brought Kali and Ganesh to Kashi and waited for Shiva there. Ganesh objected the idea, for he was a Naga, and how could Shiva love a Naga as his son? Sati wisely replied, ‘You don’t know the size of your father’s heart. The entire world can live in it.’
Yet, Ganesh was the main suspect behind Brahaspati’s death. Sati overlooked this fact when she introduced her eldest son to Shiva later after her husband returned from Branga. And while Shiva had no problem accepting Kali as part of his family, he was so shocked to find that Ganesh had the eyes of the Naga who had always caused him trouble in the past. Ganesh was definitely behind the destruction of Mt Mandar and Brahaspati’s demise. Shiva was livid. The only reason that stopped him from killing Ganesh was the fact that the Naga was Sati’s own son. 

Lady Parvati and her son Ganesh

Poor Ganesh. In this book, I really feel for him. It’s not his fault that he was exiled from Meluha. I admit I didn’t get why he had to destroy Mt Mandar and kill Brahaspati, the Meluha chief scientist (I suspect there was more than meets the eye here). But I can also understand that Shiva treasured Brahaspati like a brother and he found the chief scientist’s death so difficult to overcome. Yes, I wish he would ask Ganesh why the Naga had to kill Brahaspati, instead of just destroying the Somra factory. Yes, I wish that the Neelkanth (Shiva’s moniker due to his blue throat) would try to overcome his anger and reason with Ganesh. Ganesh actually almost died protecting his half-brother Kartik from another lion attack. He called Shiva ‘Baba’ once out of respect and desire to have a normal family. But for Shiva, those acts didn’t overweight the fact that Ganesh attacked Mt Mandar and killed Brahaspati. Shiva simply couldn’t forgive Ganesh.

I admit that I am a bit disappointed with Shiva here. His actions were understandable, but my attachment to Ganesh made me wish Shiva had reacted better. But, had I lived in that period, having no reference of Ganesh as the deity who removes obstacles, knowing only what Shiva knew, and I was so attached to Brahaspati the way Shiva was, I might want to wring Ganesh’ neck as well. At least, keeping a distance from him. So I guess, Shiva’s attitude was plausible. 

Doesn’t stop me from thinking that in this book the Mahadev was not at his best though. True, Shiva confronted Daksha about Kali and Ganesh, and because of that, Daksha admitted in front of his family that he did exile his other daughter and grandson. True, Shiva still loved Sati and really cared for her happiness. But somehow, his persistence of not forgiving Ganesh made me a bit disappointed at the Mahadev here. Come on Shiva-ji, at least hear the other part of the story first?

But I guess that’s what it is. In this book, Shiva was a human, not a god. He must learn from his mistakes, he must look beyond his prejudices to understand his true role. Shiva hasn’t finished that journey yet. He had learned from his mistakes in the Meluha book, hence he didn’t just decapitate Ganesh. But he still maintained cold shoulder whenever Ganesh was around, and that alone was enough to make me want to hug the elephant-head Ganesh. Poor baby...

Well, at least Ganesh got the best of it in the end. At the final chapter, several twists happened. The largest one was the appearance of the one Shiva thought he lost in the first book. Not going to tell who, but you can guess already. This person’s appearance automatically negated all the blames Ganesh had to take for himself. It will be interesting to see how Shiva ‘redeemed’ himself to Ganesh. He had been giving the poor boy cold shoulder so far. Shiva will apologise, alright. That was what he said to Bhagirath when he found the Swadweepan Prince did nothing wrong. ‘If I have made a mistake, I must apologise.’ 

The Ganesh and Kali revelation was not the only surprise in The Secret of the Nagas. Many mysteries started to appear here. Daksha seemed to be true to his Puranic character: two-faced and weak. The Chandravanshi Emperor Dilipa wasn’t that much of a difference either. A new character appeared here called Sage Bhrigu. Historically, Bhrigu was a fine and commendable sage. But in the Trilogy, I think Bhrigu had something nasty in his brain, and he did not hesitate to involve Daksha and Dilipa in the whole mess!

Shiva and Ganesh in the puranas

The Secret of the Nagas clearly depicted Shiva’s uncomfortable relationship with Ganesh. I actually think Amish was faithful to a popular version of the Shiva- Ganesh early relationship. Although Varaha Purana explained that Shiva created Ganesh from his laughter (a much better story, I guess), other Puranas told how their early relationship WAS rocky. According to some puranas composed on 600 CE onwards, Sati cloned Ganesh (a perfect human boy) from herself when Shiva was away and ordered the boy to safeguard her house while she was taking a shower. When Shiva came home after his trip, he found Ganesh barricading the door and not letting him enter the house to see his wife. Both imagining the worst, a fight eventually broke between the two powerful deities which led to Shiva decapitating Ganesh’ head either with his third eye beam or trident.  Some versions would say it was an accident, others said it was intentional. Still, when Shiva found out from a bereft Parvati that the headless boy was her own son, Shiva was devastated too. He tried to find the boy’s head to make him whole again, but couldn’t find the head. Hence, with the help of Visnu, Shiva replaced the boy’s head with the head of a young elephant. 

Ganesh worshipping a lingga (representation of Shiva)

The relationship between Shiva and Ganesh became better afterwards; Ganesh saw Shiva as his own father, and Shiva doted Ganesh very much. The Mahadev allowed Ganesh to play with the moon adorning his matted hair. Ganesh worshipped his parents so much, such that during a race to circle the world three times with his brother Kartik, Ganesh chose to circumambulate his parents instead of running across the globe as what Kartik did. When asked why he did that, the Elephant-head God said that to him, his parents are his world. Thus he circled Shiva and Parvati (Sati-reincarnated) instead of the Earth.  

I personally think the Shiva-Ganesh early conflict was a symbolism. Many stories in the Purana are not to be taken verbatim, IMO. I think the ‘beheading’ of Ganesh was a symbol of getting rid of ego. Or perhaps replacing blind faith (Ganesh faithfully followed Parvati’s order not to let anyone enter the room, although Shiva had said that he was her husband) with discernment (Ganesh’ elephant head represents, among others, listening, searching within and viveka/discernment). On the other hand, I think Shiva was also presented with a lesson of open-mindedness in the whole fiasco. Had he listened and talked nicely with Ganesh instead of attacking the boy, the whole incident might not happen.

I’m very curious of how Shiva would approach Ganesh in the third and last book. Being the fair person he was, I think Shiva will humbly apologise to Ganesh. Being the humble Ganesh, I think the elephant-head warrior will just refuse to put Shiva in the blame and let bygone be bygone. If Amish try to incorporate the Purana aspects, Shiva and Ganesh will develop a much better relationship as father and son. I think Ganesh will be declared Shiva’s second in command or something like that in The Oath of the Vayuputra. 

Some quibbles

I do have some quibbles for The Secret of the Nagas. First, I wish Amish would establish who his characters were when he reintroduced them in the first chapters, or the first time the characters reappeared. For main characters like Shiva and Sati, something like ‘Shiva, the Tibetan tribal leader-turned Mahadev’ and ‘Sati, the Princess of the Meluhan Empire and beloved wife of Shiva’ will do. For secondary characters like Drapaku, in the absence of extra information, I had to remember who Drapaku was when I first read him again in the Naga book. It would be nice to know that ‘Drapaku, the former Vikrama from XX town whom Shiva liberated when he banned the Vikrama law a few years back’ will do very well.  If it is too much of a trouble, a character list placed before Chapter 1 would also help the readers.

Map of the Shiva Trilogy world (ca 1,900 BC)

Secondly, this is also for the first book; I wish Amish would give the whole region another name instead of ‘India’. I of course may be wrong here, but I am certain that the name ‘India’ had not been used circa 2,000 years BC. There was a stretch of land called Meluha (or Mohenjodaro-Harappa, covering modern Pakistan and the western part of the modern India), a stretch of land called Swadweep (covering eastern part of modern India, some Himalayan regions, and also a bit of Bangladesh), another stretch of land called the Dandak Forest where Panchavati City was (now is where south India is), and a piece of no-man’s land in the middle. Amish calls the four parts of the Asia subcontinent ‘India’ and I find it hard to digest. I prefer him calling it the Hindustan as the Persians called the Indian subcontinent a few thousand years BC. The Persians meant to refer to the River Sindh/Indus when they said ‘hindu’.  Thus, when the Persians said ‘Hindustan’, they referred to the people living beyond the Indus (from Persia). 

However, according to Wiki, Hindustan was also mentioned in the Barhaspatya Samhita of the Rgveda (ca 1,700 – 1,100 BC) as follows: ‘The country which starts from Himalayas and the borders of which reach till the Indian Ocean (Indu Sarovaram), has been created by devas and its name is Hindusthan’. We can use the name Bharat as well, which was already around 1-2 millennia BC. Due to these historical perspectives, I prefer to use Hindustan or Bharat instead of India (Herodotus started to use that name ca 5th century BC). 

Nevertheless, despite the quibbles, I still love The Secret of the Nagas. It reminded me how much I love Shiva and Sati, and how I adore Ganesh and Kali. I actually cannot wait for the Oath of the Vayuputra to be published. However, patience is virtue. And since Amish has stated that he simply is an observer to events in a parallel universe, I’d rather him taking his time and record the events as faithfully as possible, rather than trying to appease fans like myself. I do hope that Sarasvati the Lady of Knowledge will always guide him in his writing, I mean, recording process.

Edit 10 Oct 2013: 
After 6 months, I finally finished my review of the 'Oath of the Vayuputras'. Click here to read it (also contains a short fan-fiction). 

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

very nice..... About puttin the character list .... In the front pages