Author Satyarth Nayak has always been drawn to the allure of Puranas and Hindu scriptures. So much so that he dedicated five long years sifting through 36 Puranas (18 Mahapuranas and 18 Upapuranas) to bring out his latest work, Mahagatha.
An impressive assimilation of 100 mythical tales, Mahagatha, published by Harper Collins, is an epic narrative that connects the dots of Hindu mythology like never before.
Each chapter unfolds the greater myths of gods, demons, sages and kings. They revisit the mythical world that shaped our religious, cultural, social and political milieu and collective unconscious.
As eternal and complex as the world in Mahagatha is, Satyarth, whose last work was a biography on actor Sreedevi, says this wasn't a chore but a joyous journey of a lifetime. It did feel like a daunting task initially.
"The intention was always to create an epic collection of 100 greatest mythological tales. But, once I entered this universe, there was no looking back. It became a joyous process of discovering these fascinating stories and absorbing the wonderful wisdom they offered. My core love for mythology ensured that the process felt like a journey of a lifetime across the four yugas. The process did take five long years, given the immense corpus I had to sift through. Also, the original list of stories was almost 200, and I had to handpick the 100 best ones out of those through a set of filters I had created in my mind," he added.
Mahagatha transcends through four yugas, set in motion when Brahma begins creation. It moves on to the emergence of Shiva and Vishnu, the creation of the mankind before touching on Vishnu's multiple avatars and culminating in the start of Kali Yuga.
It is more than just a random collection of tales, though. The chronological narrative connects each story to the other. Each has a past and a future or a cause and effect.
Some are widely popular, others lesser known. While the tales of Prahlada, Vamana avatar and Ravana seizing Lanka are those most of us grew up listening to, Mahagatha takes us through a few others not widely known but deserve to be. Like, how Ganga, Lakshmi and Saraswathi fought over Vishnu.
In the chapter titled 'Ganga, Lakshmi and Saraswathi fight,' the author narrates the tale of this brawl. The competition between the godesses for Vishnu's affection ends in a spree of curses. This tale explains the myth of Ganga's stature as the holy river that absolves the sin of mankind and the secret of tulsi becoming a sacred plant.
Then, there are tales where the line between demonic and divine blurs. Vishnu, in the chapter 'Vrinda curses Vishnu,' shows the preserver debasing the chaste of Vrinda. Another chapter talks about Sita spewing curses on a cow.
"The fascinating aspect about the Puranas is that they inhabit a gloriously grey zone. Where boons can often create chaos and curses can often lead to good. Where the Ocean of Milk that bestows amrita also spews halahal. Where Rama upholds but Krishna uproots," says Sathyarth.
He confesses that the nature of our scriptures gave him the liberty to re-interpret the tales. This has contributed to the book's readability. It is a carefully-crafted and brilliant page-turner.
But, Satyarth says it did come with its own set of challenges. "There were times when I paused to find the exact words to express what I was trying to convey. The Puranas are a complex and magnificent universe and I wanted to present it in a befitting language. Every story evoked intricate emotions that had to be captured and communicated. I was also conscious that this was a material that demanded utmost reverence," he adds.
Despite the creative liberties, the core purity of these tales remains undiluted. The book, priced at Rs 599, has already gone into reprint twice and has been delared a national bestseller by Harper Collins.