“It has not rained in Champaner for 2 years, and then it rains like this. When it rains…” the guide’s voice trailed off mournfully.
About 20 pairs of suspicious, skeptical eyes looked at the muddy, slushy path that seemed to worsen as it wound its way to apparently nowhere. But according to Manoj, the guide, the path led to 2 mosques, one of them with the most beautiful embellishments imaginable on its walls.
Maybe Manoj did not sound convincing enough, or maybe it was the mud, but most of the owners of those eyes decided to forego seeing those two mosques. But some did agree to go with the guide and see the mosques. I was one of them.
Our tour group was in Champaner for a 2-day visit. We had arrived that morning from Mumbai to a cloudy, rainy and wet day, in the wettest rainy season that Champaner was experiencing in a long time. We were to see the ruins of the medieval city of Champaner, which included many mosques in various stages of restoration or disrepair, depending on one’s point of view. I wondered how many we would be able to see with the heavy rains having made the access roads paths almost impossible to negotiate. (There are reportedly 18 such mosques, and we managed to see about 5 of them.)
Once upon a time there was a prince. He wasn’t particularly a happy prince or, for that matter, an unhappy prince; but he was an ambitious prince. He wanted to be remembered for posterity for his conquests, and his rule. The prince wanted to be like his grandfather, who had founded a great city and named it after himself. But the prince had to first become the king. And one day, he became the king.
Detail of a window at the Jami Masjid
The prince, now the king, set his eyes on a neighbouring kingdom, which was very well fortified and was known to have an impregnable defence system. The king’s advisers and soldiers urged him to consider some other kingdom to conquer.
But he declined; it had to be this kingdom. The king’s strategy was not to engage in a battle or a war; he captured the lower fortifications of this hilly kingdom, and then laid siege to it and cut off supplies.
Cloisters of the Jami Masjid
The kingdom’s ruler was amused and offered the king money, women, and jewels, but the king was not enticed. He was firm about his intentions—he wanted the kingdom. Nothing else. To show that he meant business, the king laid the foundations for his palace and a place of worship for his soldiers just outside the fortifications and at the base of this hilly kingdom.
The Secret of the Nagas (Westland, pp.396, Rs.295) is the second book in the Shiva Trilogy by Amish. The Trilogy is based on the premise that Shiva was not a mythical God, but an ordinary human being who became a God because of his karma. The 3 books in the Trilogy trace the journey of Shiva from a human being to that of a God.
The Immortals of Meluha is the first book in the series. It follows the journey of Shiva from his beginnings as a Tibetan tribal leader to that of an immigrant to Meluha (the area that we now know was the site of the great Indus Valley Civilization) to becoming aware of the extraordinary destiny that awaits him and his first attempts at fulfilling that destiny. For more on the first book, you can read my review right here.
The second book begins in Ayodhya with yet another skirmish between Shiva and Sati, and the Naga, who Shiva suspects was responsible for the death of his friend, Brihaspati. Yet again, the Naga escapes. By now Shiva is obsessed with hunting down the Nagas (an ostracised community of deformed beings with extraordinary skills, power and strength), and particularly that one specific Naga.
There is some connection between rains, ruins and me. I have always had rains for company whenever I have visited ruins. Be it Tintern or Hampi or Champaner. It is never a heavy downpour, mind you, but a gentle drizzle. So I was not really surprised when rain welcomed us on arrival at the Hyderabad airport last month. I was on a day trip to Hyderabad with Neena, a colleague, and we had arrived early in the city so that we could visit the Golkonda Fort, before getting down to business.
We got that first look of Golconda, rising tall and majestic in the distance from the car. With the rain clouds in the distance, it made for an unforgettable picture. As we neared the Fort, we kept getting tantalising glimpses of it each one a little closer. By the time the car stopped at the entrance to the Golkonda Fort, we were raring to explore the Fort.
The passage leading to the entrance of Golkonda Fort
It was 9.00 in the morning, and with hardly any other visitors in sight and it appeared that we would have the Fort almost to ourselves. This also meant that we were swamped by a horde of guides before we even got to the ticketing office. Since we had decided not to hire a guide, we had to politely and firmly decline every offer of a guide service.
We hoped to get around the Fort with an information booklet on the Fort, which we were told was available here. To our surprise, the ticket clerk informed us that no such booklets were available for the Indian tourist, and the few copies he had were only meant for international tourists only! So we ended up walking through Golkonda Fort without a guide, without any information booklet and with only a few signposts and boards to help us find our way around. And of course, the rain kept us company !
Shiva. Lord Shiva. The Destroyer. One of the Hindu Trinity. Mahadev. Nataraja. Husband of Parvati or Sati. The Supreme Yogi.
Most Indians, and certainly all Hindus, know Shiva in all these forms and then some more. For millions he is a revered God, an ishta devta, worshipped in his myriad forms. Probably, that is why many of his devotees do not think of Shiva’s origins—perhaps, the fact that Shiva is a God and is, therefore, eternal inhibits them from thinking about his beginnings.
The author of The Immortals of Meluha(Westland, pp.412, Rs.195), Amish, has no such inhibitions. The first book in the Shiva Trilogy, The Immortals of Meluha introduces Shiva as an ordinary human being with an extraordinary destiny in store for him. A destiny which makes him a saviour and a god, and whose arrival has been prophesied in an ancient legend.
It is the year 1900 BC in the area that the world today knows as the site of the Indus Valley Civilisation. But the people living there at that time call it Meluha, a near-perfect, disciplined society that lives by the rules laid down by Lord Rama himself. A caste-based society where every member’s place is determined not by birth, but by his/her abilities. A society that is almost immortal due to the availability of somras, an anti-ageing potion, for all its members. This is the society of the Suryavanshis or descendents of the sun.
6.45 am. Mumbai domestic airport. The flight to Hyderabad is now delayed by 25 minutes. It is raining heavily and the passengers, most of whom are on their way to Hyderabad for a day trip on work or business, are getting restless. When some of them insist on knowing the reasons for the delay, the air hostesses roll out a standard and automatic response: “ATC has not yet given us clearance for take-off”.
The reason for the delay in take-off is finally understood at around 7.00 am, when about 15–20 new passengers enter the plane. It is quite evident from the tags on their hand baggage that they have arrived on an international flight from a gulf country and this flight to Hyderabad is a connecting flight for them. These passengers, all Indians, probably work in the gulf region and are on their way to home (Hyderabad) for the Ramadan holidays. As soon as the new passengers are in, the plane doors are shut, the air hostesses get busy closing the overhead luggage racks, remind passengers to wear their seat belts, switch off their mobile phones, etc. The captain’s announcement also comes on to welcome the passengers and give the flight details.
Soon all the passengers are seated and buckled to their seats. Except one. He is one of the new arrivals, and boarding pass in hand, he is looking for his seat, any seat, an empty seat. He is a dazed looking, middle-aged man, a little dishevelled and frayed shirt cuffs. One of the air hostesses tells him firmly, “Sir, please take your seat.”