WRITING STYLE: 4/5
ENTERTAINMENT QUOTIENT: 4/5
From the author of Brahmahatya comes yet another enticing piece of literary fiction, The Panchatheertha, that is greatly influenced by the Panchatantra.
The book begins with an optical illusion of two monsters of the same size who could be Karataka and Damanaka after meeting Shiva Varma.
But if the book and its names, characters, locales, places, events and incidents are products of the imagination of Vishnu Sharma, Shiva Varma or Rajiv Mittal then the question arises: who exactly are these people and what is the plot all about?
Well then, The Panchatheertha is a satirical revision of sections 1 and 2 of The Panchatantra written by Vishnu Sharma.
On the other hand, in The Panchtheertha, Rishi Shiva Varma is a great scholar who enjoys the respect of several hundreds of disciples. His name is suggested to the King Amarasakti who rules the city-state of Mahilaropyam in Southern India by a new minister as the King is looking for recommendations from his council as to how he can make his sons fit to be his heirs.
The king commands the sage to take his sons to his ashram. The sage reports to the Prime Minister that he planned to impart moral lessons through fairy tale stories involving animals and birds.
Varma narrates the stories of the five pilgrimages or The Panchatheertha. The stories are narrated as a dialogue between two rascals Karataka and Damanaka.
This book can then be seen as a short story collection. It is divided into the first strategy and the second strategy.
While all the stories are equally interesting, some that can be given a special mention include The Monkey and the Wedge, The Cunning Hare and the Witless Lion, The Camel, The Jackal and the Crow, The Hermit and the Mouse and The Crow-Rat Discourse. The book ends with The Rescue of a Deer.
What holds the plot together is the manner of storytelling that Rajiv Mittal aces to perfection. The story unfolds with a moderate pace and in a gradual, though not necessarily chronological, manner. It is the humour that is interesting.
The climax rises and falls in crests and troughs. It peaks at several points within the same story and the tales unfold in a fun-filled manner. But such is the basis of most tales. They are light and enjoyable.
The humour is pervasive throughout the work though satirical at several instances. It at once baffles the reader to let out a loud chuckle and at times is ironical with the hint of a slight smirk. The descriptions are quite graphic.
The scenes in the king’s hall and the number of times that he holds an audience there can be easily visualised for their pictorial perspicuity.
The only negative is the length of the book. At 351 pages, it is rather lengthy and a difficult read.
It has several Sanskrit words that are used time and again but they all come with their equivalent English translations.
Like any fable, the tales are highly engaging and interesting. It is a refreshing take on the stories that have been a part of the Indian fable narratives since time immemorial.
However, the book may not be totally suitable for children as it is rather explicit about concubines and harem scenes along with the use of slang words from time to time.
The Panchatheertha will be a fantastic read for those who enjoy Indian mythological fiction, those who enjoy tales relating to ancient kingdoms and lovers of the Panchtantra.
It is highly recommended to read the original Panchtantra first before indulging in this book. While readers may find the book utterly creative, those who see it as a distortion of history may find it difficult to appreciate.
Can’t wait to read it? Buy your copy of The Panchatheertha from the link below.