Shakti – The Divine Feminine by Anuja Chandramouli
Shakti is Anuja Chandramouli’s third book that I have read. The first one being Arjuna that I found just ok. Then came Kamdeva that I loved and I saw Anuja’s growth as a writer. And when Shakti came I wanted to read it both for the subject and for the author. Stories of Shakti just like the stories of Kamdeva come in spurts. There is no continuous narrative that we hear about Shakti so I was very keen to sit back and read about the birth and evolution of Devi and her cult. As far as her independent cult is concerned She came quite late in the picture as per history. She appears as the mother in ancient civilizations and then comes back as consorts of popular deities before she takes the all-encompassing aura of Shakti and manifests herself as Lakshmi, Saraswati, Durga, Kali & Parvati.
Anuja follows the same format as her earlier books. The author weaves the various stories of various forms of Shakti into a single narrative pretty much like you string together a rosary with a thread. She starts from the first known avatar, according to her as Usas. Usas – a goddess who is totally uninhibited and lives a life of total freedom, which of course is not acceptable to the reigning deities. The deities humiliate and kill Usas, only to be born stronger in the next life.
If there is a protagonist there has to be a villain and that vamp in this story is Sachi. Sachi-the wife of Indra who rules over Amravati. After the Usas story, the story focuses completely on Indra and Sachi and their various cycles of debacles with various Asuras and how the Brahma, Vishnu, Shiva have to come to rescue them every time. The story talks so much about Sachi and Indra that I almost forgot about the Devi part. It appears that the story might have been called the story of Indra rather than the story of Shakti.
Anyway, the author returns to the story of Shakti towards the end and then she talks about the better-known stories of Shiva and Sati. Though I wonder why she never uses the word Sati, or Durga and Kali and the domesticated Parvati. She talks about their love and longing. She brings in the daughter of Shiva and Shakti called Avigna – who later transforms into Vinayaka or Ganesha. I am keen to know if there is a Puranik source that this story is based on or is this a figment of imagination? The author in her introduction clearly mentions that the mythology and fiction intersperse in this story and one would never know what is the truth.
In my personal opinion legend of Devi is ever expanding, there are Devis that are still taking birth or gram Devis that are taking center stage. I wish the author had touched upon them as well.
The language of the book is painfully difficult to read and reminds you of books of the pre-independence era. It seems that sentences were formed after the choice of minimum 4 difficult words, which were then strung together. At places, I felt the author wants to showcase the richness of her vocabulary rather than tell a story. Heavy words take away the essence of the story. Multiple meanings of the words make the reader feel lost and a question which one the author intends to mean.
For an average Indian reader, the language of this book would be a major roadblock. I am not against the use of lesser-known words – in fact, I like it when I learn a few new words with every book. But this book re-enforced the saying ‘Excess of everything is bad’. I hope in the next book Anuja focuses on the story more than on the language. For a storyteller, language is a means not an end.
Overall an Ok book. If you have to choose one book of Anuja Chandramouli to read I would say pick up Kamadeva. And then take a call on the other two.