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The Vaishnodevi Experience 2023

My first trip to Vaishnodevi was unimpressive. Climbing was hard, and it only served to highlight how badly out of shape I was, while my in-laws managed to cope so much better. Further, I hadn’t quite realized that the cave experience wouldn’t be the same as I had imagined, since the original cave was only opened at certain times a year, and that we only entered a newly created tunnel, one far easier to access, and hence more manageable with the crowds that thronged the mountain shrine. The resulting experience at the shrine, for barely a fraction of a second, hardly compared to what I had expected / imagined / heard about. So, for me, Vaishnodevi was like any other temple, nothing to write home about, something that was reflected (though not explicitly mentioned) in the blog post I wrote then.

Book Review: The Seeds of War, by Ashok Banker

The Mahabharata is technically an epic, composed by the sage Vyasa. However, in reality, it is so much more.

It is a collection of stories, told to children and adults alike; it is a version of history, passed on by the word of mouth, rather than the written word, and it is also a parable, warning us of the consequences of our desires as well as our actions, but above all, it remains just as relevant today, symbolically addressing issues and situations just as relevant in today’s modern world. Most of us have grown up, listening to stories from the Mahabharata. However, there are few of us who would have read the epic in its entirety. In fact, it isn’t all that easy, since there aren’t as many complete English translations as we would expect. This is the gap that Ashok Banker seeks to fill with his Mahabharata series, or, as he calls it, his MBA. Why the name? Because, as he says, Vyasa took 3 years to write it, the same period it takes to complete an MBA.  

I have been a fan of Ashok Banker and his books ever since I chanced upon the first of his Ramayana series. I even reviewed the first of his Krishna Coriolis series on the blog. However, I somehow missed laying my hands on the first of the MBA series – The Forest of Stories. Hence, when I got an opportunity of reviewing the second book in, I jumped at once, and rushed to borrow the first book from Sudha, so that I could do justice to the second!

Having read his Ramayana, I expected something similar in the Mahabharata. But Ashok Banker forestalled my expectations with a disclaimer right in the beginning. In his introduction, he says –

“This is not an epic fantasy. This is not a sci-fi rendition. It is not a futuristic version. If you are expecting any of these things, you’re going to be disappointed.”

Was I disappointed? No. I was impressed that he seems to be doing just what he promises – to retell the story, as first told by Vyasa.

To give you an idea of the book, it is necessary for me to talk first about the first book – The Forest of Stories. The book begins with the arrival of the sage ‘Sauti’ at Naimisha-sharanya, an ashram situated deep within a dense forest, rarely visited by anyone other than the gurus and their shishyas (disciples). At the request of the inmates of the ashram, Sauti begins his narration of ‘Jaya’ as the epic Mahabharata was known, starting from the beginning of life on earth, and the growth of the various dynasties. The book tells us of the snake sacrifice by Janamejaya, the story of Parikshit, the stories of Parasurama and later, Shakuntala, and the birth of Bharatha, but sees no mention of any of the familiar characters of the Mahabharata.

The second book, the Seeds of War, starts with the story of Devayani, the daughter of Sukracharya, and Kacha, the son of Brihaspati, leading on to the story of Yayati, and thence to the story we all know – of Shantanu and Ganga, leading to the story of Bhishma.

The first thing that struck me was how true Ashok Banker stayed to the rendition of the epic. For this is how the book reads when we read the Bhagvat Puran. If any of you are wondering how I know that, I come from a family where all the elders read these Puranas regularly – either as a parayan (regular reading) or simply for pleasure. These books are usually in Sanskrit, with Tamil/ English translations. These are the books my mother used to search for new stories for me, and books I later turned to, when I had nothing new to read! These Puranas usually go far back into the past before coming to the story in question, and that is the same path Ashok Banker takes, in his MBA.

What then is good or bad about the book? To me, what makes it special is Ashok Banker’s narrative. His is a language I can connect to, understand and appreciate, even as I enjoy the story, and that to, me makes the book worth reading.

These are all stories I am familiar with. Yet, his unique style of writing adds another dimension to it, makes it that much more readable, the characters’ actions understandable. I felt empathy for the characters I wouldn’t normally feel in the usual translations of the epic.

And then there are his descriptions.... especially those of the watery world of Ganga, and the child Devavrata... which are sheer pleasure to read.

All through the narrative, Ashok Banker keeps us riveted, never letting us forget that these are the events which, no matter in what way, led to the Mahabharata war. That our actions have reactions – lasting longer than we can even think, having results we can scarcely imagine.

No, I am not telling you how Ashok Banker manages to achieve that. For that, you have to go, read the book yourself! I am already looking forward to the third book in the series – ‘The Children of Midnight’. 

This review is a part of the biggest Book Reviews Program. for Indian Bloggers. Participate now to get free books!


  1. In this age of Life, Ashok Bankers Seeds of War has demystified all that information regarding the great Indian Mythology. This book simply enlightens, inspires and establishes the connections so well for the stage to be setup for the epic battle at Kurukshetra. This is one of my favorites which i would cherish on for reading... already waiting and wanting the next part to release.
    The author takes the full credit for his devoted time spent on the book for the quality of craftsmanship produced and the reading would surely bring ones self to understand and believe in what we want to pursue.

  2. I had been waiting for the print edition of the third book in the series and did not realize that it had already been released last year. But I noticed that the publisher changed (from Westland to Jaico) and I was wondering if this had any effect on the page quality (I really liked the soft, flexible pages that Westland Ltd. uses for its publishing in the first 2 books), font size, etc.

    There is very little information available on the internet and so I decided to ask you since you seem to be following the print editions as well. Also contact information of the author seems to not exist even on his own website. I would really appreciate a response if you do know about it. I am thinking of buying the copy of the third book if it maintains the same quality.

    1. The book quality is quite good, Ritwik. Though I havent really compared Westland and Jaico earlier. i will keep an eye out next time!

      as for the author, he is on twitter, and quite active there, though I have not been in touch with him via email recently. as for his website, it is totally outdated. he seems to be busy with other stuff now.

    2. Thank you for the reply! I will be buying it.


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