Reviving myths

Meet the author

Reviving myths
Amish Tripathi continues his foray into the diverse and often mystical realm of Indian mythology with a new series on Lord Rama. The cover and trailer of the first book, The Scion of Ikshvaku, were launched recently, and the book itself is expected to be out soon. The author recently answered questions relating to the book and its symbology of the cover, his concept of mythology, and its relevance in today’s world. Here are excerpts from an interview:

Why did you choose to write on Lord Rama and what was the inspiration behind your new book, Scion of Ikshvaku?

I don’t select my subjects. I believe they are decided by fate. I just go with the flow. When my publisher and I signed the contract for a new series, I did not know then what I would be writing about, and the publisher was aware of that. At a Literature Festival in Mumbai more than a year and a half ago, an incident occurred that upset me. It upset me enough to write an article about it at that time, explaining why I respect Lord Rama, while readily accepting that what he did with Sita was unfair. And I also decided that day that I will write my next book series on Lord Rama.

Among the many classical works that refer to Lord Rama, like Ram Charit Manas, Valmiki Ramayana, or Adbhutha Ramayana, which has influenced you the most with regard to characterisation?

I have been impacted by all of them, besides many others as well, such as Kamba Ramayanam, Uttar Ram Charit, Ramayan Darshanam, among others.

Do you have new insights into the Ramayana?

I think so! I don’t know if others will agree with me. We’ll have to wait and see when the book releases.

Do you think old myths are open to new interpretations?

The tradition of reinterpreting and modernising myths has been around for millennia. That is precisely why we have so many different interpretations of the Ramayan over the ages. The same for the many stories in the puranas. This is a rich Indian tradition which is being revived now.

What kind of research do you do for a retelling of a mythological tale?

Much of what I know about mythology has been learnt from my family. My grandfather was a pandit in Benaras. Both my parents are also religious. I also read a lot; that helps as well.

Do you think mythological stories exist, for Indians, in a collective subconscious that is difficult to pin down to in a specific time and place?

All ancient cultures gave a lot of importance to mythology. Myths were the vehicles to learn philosophy, which is essentially the art of learning how to live. What is unique about India is that we are among the few ancient cultures that have survived. Most of the others were wiped out.

Do you agree with the de-glorification of heroic characters from mythology?

Why do you have to de-glorify? This hate-filled iconoclastic approach of modern nations/tribes from the Middle East and Europe has led to tremendous violence over the last 1,800 years where millions of people from ancient cultures across the world were killed simply because they worshipped idols. But I also agree with the ancient Indian tradition that nothing should be beyond question. By questioning, we learn. I am only advocating that the questioning should not be hate-filled and violently iconoclastic.

Do you conceptualise the covers of your books yourself?

I can’t take sole credit for the covers. There are fantastic designers who work on them. Like Rashmi Pusalkar for the covers of the Shiva trilogy and Think WhyNot agency for the Scion of Ikshvaku cover. But yes, I am closely involved in all the thinking, planning and executing for it.

What sort of symbology has been incorporated into the cover and story of Scion of Ikshvaku?

There are many. The symbols on the coin on the spine of the cover is my interpretation of how Rama would be written in the Indus Valley script. The flying machine on the top right of the front cover is my imagination of how the Pushpak Vimaan would look. There are many other symbols as well, which will become clearer as the covers of the subsequent books are released.

Do you think a well-designed cover enhances the text of a novel?

Yes. A good cover is an important part of the marketing of the book.

How many books are you planning with this new series, and how well developed is the plot for each book in your mind?

Probably five books. Maybe more. I’m not sure at this stage.

What is the relevance of the Ramayana and other ancient epics in today’s world, especially for the youth?

All our myths and philosophies are a part of our culture. They are at the root of who we are as a people. Of course, we should learn from other cultures, including the West. But we should not forget who we are. Especially when messages from the ancient Indian culture are deeply liberal and suitable for our age.

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