I have come to believe that a book lands up in your hands when the time is just right for you to read it, and this belief could not have been strengthened more than by this book. I have had this book with me for more than a decade, but it was now 3 days before my planned visit to the ancient city of Vaishali that I read this book. And what timing, everything mentioned or described in the book just came alive in front of my eyes in Vaishali.

The story is based in 5-6th century BC, at the time when Buddha attained enlightenment and Mahaveer was an ascetic, both living not too far from each other. In the republic of Vaishali that comprised of eight different states and was run by their elected representatives, there lived the most beautiful women called Ambapali or Amrapali. Being the most beautiful women, she could not have belonged to one man, but had to dedicate herself to all the men in the republic and be a Nagarvadhu which literally would mean the wife of the city and would loosely mean a courtesan. She was worshipped like a Goddess and had all the privileges that she asked for before she agreed to be a Nagarvadhu. She continues to live the life she wants to while fulfilling her duty. She decided the man who will father her son and demands that her son be the king of the kingdom of Magadh and gets it. And in the end she gives up everything and becomes a monk in the Buddhist sangha, becoming one of the first women to join the sangha.

It is a story of the kingdoms and their kings, as they existed 2600 years ago. Author has contrasted the republic and the monarchy through their respective pros and cons. He has described the lifestyles of the people from various walks of life through their living spaces, towns, cities, through what they wore, what and where they studied, what skills they developed and how they interacted with each other. He weaves the pattern of politics into the story in such a way that you would be amazed at the level to which the political science was developed then and how well the politicians and their advisors played with the psyche of the people to their advantage. It talks about the relationships within the families and the society in general, the more or less equal role played by the women and the respect that they commanded in society.

As a well-researched book, it stitches the documented history and oral history through a vivid imagination. The description of the places and people brings them alive in front of your eyes and you almost live with them as the story progresses. There are all the nine rasas that are contained in this story and it is these rasas that will keep you glued on to the book. An amazing combination of history and fiction that even introduces you to the language that was used in those times. It was a pleasure to read good Hindi too.

I recommend this book to any connoisseur of Hindi literature. For those of you who cannot read Hindi, I am not sure if there is a translation of this work available in English. Are the publishers listening?

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