I’m not an avid reader of Mythology but this book convinced me to start reading more from this genre. I will be honest and accept that I was unfamiliar to these characters from Indian mythology but it motivated me to go deep, and I discovered so much about the rich culture and diversity of our Indian legends.
Janaka and Ashtavakra: A Journey Beyond is a debut work by Ashraf Karayath who was born in Kerala, India but is now settled in Dubai. Along with his profession, he is on a quest to discover the knowledge of Indian culture and learn more about ancient history. The author was inspired to write about the philosophy and knowledge packed in the Ashtavakra Gita while watching a video lesson with the Art of living club in Dubai.
The author takes inspiration from the stories from Ramayana about King Janaka who was Sita’s father and sage Ashtavakra who taught him the great philosophies he has been craving to discover. There are a lot of books that talk about the tales of King Janaka and Sage Ashtavakra but the way this book has weaved the story is something so different and unique.
The story takes place many years ago in the kingdom of Mithila which is ruled by King Janka. The story follows his life and discusses the various problems he endures mentally and spiritually to decide what is better for his people and kingdom. In the prologue of the novel, he had a nightmare where he saw himself as a beggar, running around in his own kingdom, hungry and begging for food from door to door, the people turned their backs and refused to help him. He found an old woman who warned him that he’ll lose everything he has and leave him with the question “Do you know if you are a beggar or a King?” After this incident, King Janaka is anxiously looking for answers to this strange dream, he calls the sages to help him find the purpose behind it. Despite several attempts by the sages the king still finds himself deep in his thoughts worrying about the fate of his kingdom. While on the other hand, the problems with Sita’s Swayamwar poses a threat of war on Mithila. Khushdwaja, King Janka’s younger brother is upset and dissatisfied with the King’s lack of concern for the matter. Until one day a young, impaired sage Ashtavakra arrives at his court claiming to have all the answers to his problems.
The story is well written by the author in elegant language and creative with literary techniques. The story may seem to take place many years ago yet the teachings and philosophy of Ashtavakra are so remarkable, modern and fresh. I was able to relate to his words and found answers to many deeply-seated doubts that I had in my mind especially pertaining to the current situation. King Janak’s pursuit of the truth even when his kingdom was under the threat of war is a symbol for a man’s search for meaning in times of trouble.
The novel began at a slow pace but it gradually introduced the different aspects of the story and helped in building up the conflict of the plot. The characters are well-formed especially King Janka’s battle with his thoughts and inability to make a decision is important to note as mostly in mythologies, the King is portrayed as a perfect hero and leader who always has the solutions whereas in this novel we get to learn about the pressure and honest feelings of a king or a leader, who not only has to deal with the issues of his subjects but also has his inner turmoil to conquer. The use of objective correlative to depict the feelings of the characters helps in the advancement of the plot and make the reader comprehend the characters’ troubles. Though the story is a traditional Indian tale that is deeply rooted in Indian culture and spirituality; but, as the novel’s title suggests “a journey beyond” the story travels beyond its time and can be assessed in the contemporary concepts of consciousness, enlightenment and the purpose of life.
I highly recommend this novel to everyone even if you are someone who does not read fiction this story will not disappoint you. I’ll suggest this to you if you want to learn more about Indian culture and its traditional knowledge. The complex language used in many accounts of the Ashtavakra Gita, this book adopts a simple yet formal manner to narrate the story. It is a book for everyone, can be enjoyed by people of all age groups, and it will leave you with a better understanding of life.
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