Ayodhya, the "unconquerable" capital city of the Arya nations, is all set to celebrate the harvest season with the traditional colorful festival of Holi. Happy and carefree citizens from every corner of the land are gathering there, blissfully unaware of a chilling conspiracy which has been many years in the making and is finally about to play out its deadly intent. Maharaja Dasaratha, the King of Ayodhya, is an old man plagued by a mysterious illness. But he still has nightmares about the long-lasting, brutal and bloody battle that he led so successfully some twenty odd years ago against the invasion of the Lord of Narak (hell), Ravana and his mighty force of countless cannibalistic Asuras (demons). After banishing Ravana to his island domain of Lanka, peace has reigned in Prithvi (earth). And now, it is all about to end.
On the auspicious day of Holi, the powerful seer-mage Brahmarishi Vishwamitra arrives and delivers Ayodhyans a most dire warning: Ravana is set to attack Prithvi again. and this time his unearthly forces are so vast and so powerful as to be virtually undefeatable. Humankind is about to face the deadliest battle ever for its own existence. But hope of salvation is still there, and it lies in the pure soul of Crown Prince Rama. With his younger brother Lakshman tagging along, Rama sets off with Vishwamitra on a most perilous expedition to Bhayanak-Van (the dark forest). All the while, shape-shifting Asuras follow them, tantric (black) magic is in the air and mutants run rampant. Can these two young princes succeed where veteran warriors have failed?
In Prince of Ayodhya, author Ashok Banker sets out to entertain todayís readers with a modern version of the famed ancient Indian epic story The Ramayana, a tale in the ever-popular universal theme of good versus evil vein. As in the original Ramayana, Banker splits the lengthy story into four parts; this book covers the balakanda, the "childhood story."
By telling the story in a very visual manner along with sound effects, and thus ensuring that the readers experience what each character is going through instead of just reading about it, Banker makes the whole story come brilliantly alive. With liberal use of Sanskrit and Hindi words and phrases, he sets the mood for an authentic and enticing Indian fantasy-drama. For the convenience of the non-Indian readers, a helpful glossary has been provided toward the end of the book for just this purpose. This style of writing is sure to fascinate new and younger readers worldwide who are yet unfamiliar with this epic. At the same time, Banker offers Indians themselves a new perspective insight into a story that has long been regarded by them as a purely religious one.
The story is very similar to the original, although Banker has hyped up some portions, deleted others, changed the names in some places and overall made the story more action-oriented, vivid and grisly than before. It's more along the lines of a Tolkien, the ultimate fantasy with bits of Matrix and X-Men thrown in. Fantastic magical effects are intricately woven into the scenario and the action-sequences are so vibrant that the readers can almost feel the arrows zing past, narrowly missing them. However, at times the weighty descriptions do eat up pages and slow the pace.
One other striking difference is that this book, while emphasizing dharma (duty) and brahmanic power, is not as overtly religious in nature as the original. But there is more to Book One of Banker's Ramayana trilogy than a mere battle for survival between two totally different species. Itís also a saga of insidious political upmanship, conspiracies, jealousy, sex, polygamy, and an overall a struggle for power, both internal as well as external. Even with some flaws, the book does not fail in utterly enthralling and entertaining its readers.
Note : Books II and III, Siege of Mithila and Demon of Chitrakut are expected to be released soon.