The immortals of Meluha: A review

The background

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.

The story

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.

And yet, this is also a society whose very existence is under threat: the waters of the river Saraswati, which flows through Meluha, and is a core ingredient for manufacturing somras, is drying up; the Meluhans are increasingly facing “terrorist” attacks from their neighbouring country, Swadweep, which is inhabited by the Chandravanshis (or descendents of the moon). And then there is also the threat from the Nagas, an ostracised group of deformed (mutant?) beings with extraordinary skills, power and strength. The Chandravanshis and the Nagas appear to be allies who jointly conduct such terror strikes in Meluha.

It is in such a scenario that the Meluhan Emperor, Daksha, and his people find hope in an ancient legend which says that “when evil reaches epic proportions, when all seems lost, when it seems that your enemies have triumphed, a hero will appear”. That “hero” will not be a Suryavanshi or a Chandravanshi or a Naga; he will be someone from another land. That hero will be identified when his throat turns blue on partaking somras, thereby becoming the Neelkanth (or the blue-throated one). Due to this legend, Meluha actively encourages immigrants to settle in their land.

It is against the backdrop of this legend that Shiva and his tribe of Gunas arrive in Meluha as immigrants from Mount Kailash in Tibet. They are blissfully unaware of the legend and are keen to get away from their homeland due to constant inter-tribal skirmishes. As new immigrants and as per the Meluhan policy, the Gunas are placed under quarantine and administered somras. Little do they know that life for one of them is going to change forever—Shiva’s throat turns blue, and the Meluhans finding Neelkanth, their saviour.

Shiva’s life changes as he is made aware of the legend and the expectations of the people of Meluha by Emperor Daksha. The book then charts the journey, growth and self- discovery of the Neelkanth as he travels through Meluha, discovers a not-so-perfect society lurking underneath, has skirmishes with the Nagas and the Chandravanshis, foils two kidnapping attempts of Princess Sati (Daksha’s daughter), falls in love and marries Sati, befriends Brihaspati (the chief scientist responsible for the manufacture of somras) and loses him in a “terrorist attack”, and leads the Suryavanshis to a war against the Chandravanshis. This war leaves the Suryavanshis victorious, the Chandravanshis vanquished, thousands dead, and the Nagas still at large.

This is when Shiva discovers that the Nagas and the Chandravanshis are not allies, and that the Chandravanshis believe in the legend of the Neelkanth and had expected him to be on their side. Both these discoveries devastate Shiva and leads him to question the very war that he led and executed.

As Shiva ponders over this folly after the war at the Ramjanmabhoomi Temple in Ayodhya, the capital of Swadweep, the temple priest reveals to him that Shiva’s destiny is to destroy evil and become the Mahadev or the great god. He exhorts him to believe in himself and tells Shiva that he will receive guidance from a group of priests called Vasudevs, at the appropriate time.

A less despondent Shiva leaves the temple with hope, and as he exits he notices Sati waiting for him and behind her a hooded and masked Naga readying for an attack. The book ends at this point.

The review

The Immortals of Meluhais is a potpourri of Hindu mythology, history, philosophy, fantasy and literary freedom. Amish juxtaposes all this to create his debut novel and the first of his Shiva trilogy.

The author (or publisher or typesetter) has used certain thoughtful design elements to convey the age and setting of the period of the story. Indus Valley Seals or the Harappa seals are used as section separators, as well as a decorative motif at the beginning of each chapter. Also interesting is the way certain names have been changed to convey a sense of the past and are yet recognisable today: for example, Karachi as Karachapa, Harappa as Hariyupa, etc. Jhoolelal, the community god of the Sindhis, is present as Jhooleshwar, the Governor of Karachapa !

The language is simple and everyday Indian English, presented in a racy format. There was one description that I particularly liked:

The ornate [temple] roof was topped by a giant triangular spire, like a giant namaste to the gods. (pp. 44)

Another description that I liked was Shiva’s explanation for the slogan “Har Har Mahadev”, an explanation that I thought was absolutely brilliant and inspired (pp.345).

But there are also some lines in the book, which are rather stale and corny:

Although her black hair was tied in an understated bun, a few irreverent strands danced a spellbinding kathak in the wind. (p.47)

If anybody  here has any objection to this yagna, please speak now. Or forever hold your peace. (p.223) :-P

In my opinion, the simple, everyday Indian English that Amish uses in this book, is also one of the biggest drawbacks of the book. For example, everybody, and I mean everybody, in the book speaks in the same way—Emperor Daksha, Princess Sati, Parvateshwar (Commander of Meluha’s security forces), Kanakhala (the Meluhan Prime Minister), Shiva, Nandi (his Meluhan aide), etc. The vocabulary and expressions used for all these characters are the same in spite of all of them coming from different educational, social, and cultural backgrounds. In fact, Shiva is uneducated, as Parvateshwar remarks rather heatedly (p.70). So how is Shiva able to read the word “Ram” written on his angavastram (p. 34)? And sometime later, he is actually reading treatises and histories!!!. Did the somras give Shiva this ability? We’ll never know.

Poor editing is another drawback of the book. For example, spelling mistakes: “Why will you not council me?” (p.27), when it should actually be “Why will you not counsel me?” Another (minor) irritant is continuity: Shiva is initially described as having a beard, and after he becomes the Neelkanth, it appears that has become clean-shaven. But there are no lines giving this transition.

The verdict

This is not the first time that I have come across the theory of Shiva being a mortal, human, who became a God by virtue of his deeds. A friend, who is something of an expert in tantric studies and Hindu mythology, had said this to me many years back. But this is the first time I am reading about that theory through The Immortals of Meluha.

Due to my interest in mythology, and the general positive buzz created in the media, I had great expectations from the book. I must admit that I was disappointed not so much with the story (which I think is great), as much as I was with the quality of writing. But, having said that, if you are looking for a racy, exciting read then this is the book for you. It is the kind of book that you will want to read from cover to cover in one sitting. But if, like me, you are interested in language, the play of words, the  characterisation, and depth in a story, then this book is not for you.

♦   ♦   ♦   ♦   ♦   ♦

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43 thoughts on “The immortals of Meluha: A review

  1. Very well written review. I love the way you begin giving a brief generic overview. Then the story in brief, and finally the most important part, your assessment of the book. I have been meaning to know more about this book since long and this was pretty much perfect.
    As to the book itself, well I must say the good part is someone is portraying our gods to be mortal and showing them in a positive light. For once an uncontroversial mythological work.
    I’m not a very religious person, but Shiva is a fascinating topic for anyone. Once again great work with the review :)
    Alekh

    • Welcome to my blog, Jayendrasharan. And thank you so much for stopping by to comment, even thought the post did not really work for you. :-) Yes, I agree that the post is long, but I did want to write a comprehensive review. But thank you for the feedback, which I will keep in mind while writing the next one.

      I hope that this post will not deter you from visiting my blog again. :-)

  2. Pingback: Book #26 The Immortals of Meluha by Amish | Bibliofanatique

    • Welcome here, Akash, and thank you for stopping by and commenting. I am sorry that you felt that I have revealed the plot, and I do appreciate the fact that it may have acted as a spolier for some readers. But if you have read this book, you would know that I have only revealed the outline and there are many sub-plots, which have a bearing to the story and which I have not spoken about.

  3. I am reading this book now a days (not the one who can finish it in one weekend) and finding it quite interesting. So much that I thought of finding what people are saying about it in their reviews. I am no great connoisseur of literature so can’t comment on the quality of writing however I found the plot and the narration real good and entertaining. After reading your review I think, considering it’s a debut novel we can be still be little appreciative of Amish.

    • Welcome here Dev, and thank you so much for stopping by and commenting. As I have mentioned in my review I also found the plot and the story interesting. That and my love for mythology is what prompted me to sign up to review this book. However, no matter how good a story is, poorly sketched characterisation, dialogues and errors bring down the quality of the book. Whether it is a first book or the nth book of an author these cannot be condoned.

  4. I am always a fan of Lord Shiva. So when I saw a book with Shiva as a core subject, I wanted to read this book. To appreciate the author “Amish” for his knowledge and interest in ancient India(Bharath), I bought this book instead of borrowing it from friends.

    The way the author depicts the Ram Raajya (Lord Shri Ram’s Kingdom), is awe-inspiring. His way of taking the subject – Shiva from a normal human being into a super man is very interesting. I truly salute the author. But the author states several untrue facts in this book, which he claims as the Indian History or Ram Raajya.

    > First thing, the author claims that Sati (Parvati) is a widow is unacceptable.
    > Secondly, the author takes the story to a point where the Shiva marries the Sati who is a widow. How the Mahadeva in the name of Holy-lake would marry a widow?

    As per Indian history there is no concept of Widow re-marriage. When a man dies, there was an audacious practice of firing the Wife of the husband along with his body.

    With his immense knowledge on Indian history and Ram Raajya, I wonder, how the author dared to depict Sati Devi as a Widow and Lord Shiva getting married to a Widowed Sati!

    I don’t understand onething. Indians/Hindus, they emerge together to fight against when Government or Terrorists try to cause any damage to the Lord Ram’s name. But now they are keeping their mouths shut allowing this kind of book to be published across the world, where the author understate the Lord Shiva’s honor.

    I believe this act should be questioned.

  5. Good review. The cycle of destruction continues, Shiva Hypothesis – http://clarkprasad.com/2012/01/01/dec-21-2012-shiva-hypothesis-and-nasa-secret-knowledge/

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  6. The words are yours but thoughts are mine also..I felt the same after reading this book…additionally sometimes it occurred to me that AMISH was very much conscious of this story to be a bollywood movie in near future while writing and it affected his style.

    • Welcome to my blog, I believe, and thank you so much for stopping by and commenting. That’s an interesting observation of yours and it has got me thinking about the book once again. And you’re so right about it too !

  7. Its a perfect review. You have covered the theme, story, style and the presentation well. I agree with your gripe with the language, not to speak of the typos. It leaves you with the feeling that the authors churning out these volumes would be better off doing things commensurate with their talents. I do have the the two books of the series but it is going to be a few years before I’ll be able to start reading them.

    • Well, I know from experience that typos are not just the authors’ fault—the publishing house is equally to blame, if not more. My main problem with stories such as these are, in spite of so called research claimed by the authors or the personal experience shared, it somehow does not translate into a well-fleshed out narrative. One that a reader can delight in, savour and chew on. For me, the narrative and characterisation is paramount and takes precedence over a racy and easy reading style adopted to garner more readership.

  8. Great review! I agree with your point on all of the charecters talking in a similar manner and on the few corny lines in the book. But it was a racy read, and I liked the way he humanized Shiva. btw, since you’ve closed comments on I Rama, thought I’d let you know on here: I loved your review of the book. :-)

    • Welcome here, Modern Gypsy, and thank you so much for stopping by and commenting. I started liking this series better after reading the Secret of the Nagas, and am now waiting for the last one. :-)

      Thanks for your comments on I, Rama too. I had to close comments there as they were getting out of hand.

      • Yes, I saw that. I’m sorry you faced such a lot of heat just for giving your honest opinion. And happy to see you have a bunch of defenders as well. Helps balance things out a bit. ;-)

    • Welcome here, Aditi. Thank you so much for stopping by and commenting. Yes, The Immortals of Meluha has a fantastic plot line and if this kind of book appeals to you than you should pick up a copy for yourself.

  9. Hi Sudhagee,

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  10. Really nice review. Can u plz mail me the character sketch of shiva, sati and brihaspati as i have got an english project in which i have to present their charactersketch.
    thanks a lot!!

    • Welcome to my blog, Tanya, and thank you for stopping by and commenting. I’m glad that you liked the review and found it useful enough to ask me to send the character sketches of the various characters in the book. However, I cannot do that as that would amount to cheating on your part and abetting your cheating on my part. I would suggest that you read the book to write your own character sketch for the project.

      Good luck :-)

  11. I am reading your review for the first time. It is amazing. It is not biased and it tells every aspect of the story. I agree with you completely about what you have written. Could you please send me a character sketch of shiva via email. It will really help me a lot to answer many of the unanswered questions in my mind regarding him while reading the book.

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