Vanara: Not Just a Love Story!


What first comes to mind when I say Indian Mythology? Ramanayana? Mahabharata? Not Baali, I bet. Definitely not Tara!
Vanara: The Legend of Baali, Sugreeva and Tara is a modern day perspective of Indian Mythology written by Anand Neelakantan, with a twist of course! The writer of the famous Bahubali series and Asura has done it once again! He has dived into the less explored story of Bali and Sugreeva, the Vanara brothers, and Tara, one of the Panchkanyas. When seen from his perspective, a completely new view comes into picture. Was it really how it is in Ramanaya? 
The story begins with the Vanara brothers as slaves in an Ashram. One incidence involving, Indra and Ahalya, changes the course of their lives as they have to run into the jungles to save their lives and set on a new path. There, they meet their tribe of Vana Naras and fall in love with the same woman, Tara. This sure is one of  the world’s earliest love triangles! Baali’s dream is to build the free city of Kishkinda for Vana Naras, where everyone is equal and all are welcome. That’s not to say there are no hurdles! The path is paved with thorns, made worse by his own brother’s follies. The way things unfold in the novel revolving around these three characters gives you a roller coaster ride, racing not only your heart but also your mind! What have we been blindly believing from our childhood? Was Baali really at fault for exiling Sugreeva? Why did Hanuman help Sugreeva? More so, why did Rama kill Baali? Who decides what is right and what is wrong? How can one act as judge based of subjective beliefs?! 

This book is a mind opener. It takes you through a movie in your mind!

(PS: There is actually a movie coming soon on this,soon!)

Possible spoilers ahead!

Caste and Superstition

From the time immemorial, it seems man has always made boundaries and classes. Till it served just purposes, it was right. The stone man divided themselves based on the everyday work and so does the modern man, but the justification has become too complex to argue against or control. Looking at how even in Threta Yug there was mass discrimination and wars based on religion and jatis, it seems things haven’t changed much. The great jattayu was some God’s messenger or just a huge bird? Is it ok to treat people of different race or colour with negative bias? The incidents in the book where the two brothers face humiliation due to their different way of life is even heart-wrenching. It’s still prevalent in the world and that’s even more disappointing. 

Why Is It ALWAYS Women?

Tara is the victim of Sugreeva’s one-sided love, or shall we call it lust? Even though she’s devoted to Baali and marries him, even though she’s wise and bold, why can’t she seek Baali’s help to stop the abuse? One part is because Baali may not believe her, the second is what if he does share her? Third, somewhere deep down, she’s ashamed of her own thoughts that betrayed her love. Buck up, women! It happens. You should know to promptly address such issues. A stitch at the time saves nine! 

But does it? 

Even today, women are victimised, abused and doubted based on the dress they wear, the way they talk and anything that touches their existence (figuratively and literally). How can women address sensitive issues when they cannot truly confide in the man they love? How can they confide in their darlings if those darlings are insensitive to their feelings? If they are made such by the society? I’m not saying Baali in the story was insensitive; he is one to disregard Agnipariksha and choses to trust tara, though weeding out the envy of his brother was not exactly his priority. Hell, he even lets his brother mess up his marriage!

How Much is Too Much?

So how much is too much? Too much of envy, lies, disrespect, lust, love, integrity, rivalry… how much of oneself is too much? Baali’s integrity made him a hero but also got him murdered, almost destroyed his marriage. Sugreeva’s one sided love made him a coward. Ruma’s hatred made her poisonous. Rama’s  off-the-charts dedication to Dharma made him kill Baali from behind a tree. We can also say Soorpnakha’s thirst for revenge sparked the whole episode of Sita being kidnapped and Rama going to battle. Or was it Lakshaman’s uncontrollable anger that made him defile Soorpnakha and started the cycle of revenge? Who is to judge? 

(Why does this remind me of Naruto? Hatred goes in cycles, true, Kishimoto Sensei!)

Husband and Wife

They say every successful man has a woman behind him. Baali did too. Only, he didn’t listen to her often. A relationship between a husband and a wife should be that of friends first and then life partners. This is what I learn from this story! Tara could confide in Hanuman and ask of favours from Nala, but not Baali. History would be different if she could speak to Baali in the similar way!

Feel-good lines and Gyan 

When Baali is dying, it is said in some versions of Ramayana, that he asks Rama what is his crime? He is told that a younger brother is like a son and must be forgiven. He must have forgiven him, whatever his crimes.

Are you kidding me? After what he did, he should be forgiven? He was allowed to live, wasn’t that enough? Is not a younger brother liable to hold some responsibility?

It is also said that when Baali is dying, Rama says that in the next birth cycle, Baali will get to kill him to avenge his wrongful murder. 

Really? What if there’s no next life? 

Gyan is good only to a level. It may practically not apply.

Kalyug

The novel depicts how the era changes, how people change, and how complicated they become. The code of conducts, suffocating rules, blindfolds of religion and greed start running the world after Baali’s death. The sense of integrity and importance of valour, partnership and equality are disappearing. That’s the dawn of Kayug. This makes me question; wasn’t Ramaraj considered the Golden Era of Bharat? Ramaraj started after Baali’s death, so how does this fit? kalyug seemed to have started then itself. Ironical.

So, is everything we know really how it happened? Can there be other facts? Perspectives? Reasons? Truths? I believe, many!

Some practical take aways I suggest we should all imbibe from this novel:

Listen to your wives. Confide in your men.

Fundamentals of person’s make-up never changes. Sugreeva cheated in their teenage match and he did it again. Several times! And not just with Baali.

Watch your drinks! 

Learn to tame your ego/ pride. 

Punish people the second or third time itself. Don’t wait for an arrow to glaze you.

Don’t keep a full-time nanny. Angad would have been more of Tara’s son if she hadn’t let Ruma take care of him so much. 

Any desire that exceeds limits is dangerous to oneself and to the society.

Read more and get more perspective! Yes, open your mind to a hundred more possibilities!

After reading this book, I can only say how shocked, surprised and astounded I was at the number of questions that swarmed in my head and the emotions that stormed my heart. Give it a read and share in comments how you felt about Vanara: The Legend of Baali, Sugreeva and Tara!

Can you guess what historical figure I’m going to read about next? I’ll give you a cue; he was from Mongolia!


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