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Book Review: The Flight of Deities: An Anthology of Desecration & Devotion – Curated by Avatans Kumar

Padmasri Meenakshi Jain is one of the most respected historians in our country. Her book “Flight of Deities” narrates sordid episodes from our past of invaders and barbarians destroying our temples. Deities worshipped at the temple had to be hidden or taken away as a part of loot. Meenakshiji’s book brought out these episodes in a historical account. Inspired by this book, IndicA, and writer Avatans Kumar have brought out a remarkable anthology on the same subject.

In this anthology, the authors present short stories from different timelines, all of which are related to our history. Our history books gloss over these episodes, but they are a reality – a sad reality from our past. Through these stories, the curator and the ten authors have presented these episodes in a form that people would enjoy reading.

This book is recommended not just for people who like to read history but for everyone who feels pained about what happened in the past and how it is being buried in the present. Each of the stories has a life of its own and is presented in an engrossing manner. Reviewing the stories is not easy as one would not like to reveal too many details but it has been difficult writing this review without revealing spoilers.

Here is a brief review of the stories presented.

Author Pranshu Saxena is a Mahabharata enthusiast who has interestingly brought in a Mahabharata angle to a story set in the Mughal era. His story, ‘Fellowship of the Shivalinga – The fall of Akbar Sani’ has an interesting premise that would remind you of the Mahabharata’s Virata Parva. I would leave it to you to read the story to know how the author has weaved it into the narration. The way the author has blended fiction with history is the highlight of this story. The attention to historical details is a key feature of this story. The author’s research is immaculate, and this is a story that flows smoothly. The conclusion will surely bring a smile to your face.

Rajesh Ramachander writes on the ‘Will of Gods’. This story takes you to the legendary Madurai temple to the terrible period when the evil Malik Kafur set about his campaign of destruction and desecration. Set in the 13th century, the marauders are at the gate while the temple authorities plan how to save the temple gold. They soon realise, it is not only time to save the gold, but also the deity. The author has written a spellbinding tale, and you will be forced to read it at one go. This is a brilliantly written tale that brings to life a historic event.

‘Meenakshi – The Queen of Madurai’ by Deepa Duraiswamy presents the tale of the Vijayanagar crown prince and the role he played in the liberation of Madurai. Continuing from the previously mentioned story, this brilliantly written story transports you to the past where you see the heroics of the brave Vijayanagar scion and the grandeur of the Madurai temple. The descriptions and the writing style bring the story to life. The ending will give you goosebumps and it is truly a story to rejoice. Fittingly it has been placed at the end of the book, so you can take away a feeling of satisfaction after reading the tales of the sad desecrations.

Author Kavita Krishna Meegama brings to you a powerful tale in ‘Multan, Sindh’. It is not just the tale of a stolen deity, but is also the tale of forcible conversions and the emotional havoc it causes. The story is of a man who learns a dark secret from his mother’s past. It is a secret that shocks and revolts him. He then sets out on a journey of redemption. You must read this story for an ending that fills you with hope.

Aditi Gopinath’s ‘Reprise’ is a very short story that brings forth the incredibly tragic desecration of the Martanda Temple. It is a short but impactful tale. It is the story of a man who is visited by people from his past at the end of his life. And they bring forth memories of all his deeds, including the terrible events at Martanda. To say anymore would be a spoiler, so read this story to know how it all ends.

Noted author Aditi Banerjee brings to you ‘The Language of Deities’, an engrossing story of a priest who converses with the deities Govinda and Radhadevi. Through the deities eyes’, the author narrates the tragedy at Vrindavan where the marauding army of Aurangzeb desecrated the holy land. This is the story of the priest and his interaction with the deities. This interesting tale is powerfully narrated and has a thought-provoking conclusion.

Well-known historian & author Aneesh Gokhale has written on the ‘Eighteen Invasions of Jagannath Puri’. The story starts with the narrator (author) visiting the Jagannath temple and conversing with the priest. The first stunning fact is how Puri was invaded eighteen times, including once by a Hindu king. The second stunner lies in the details. King after king gave their all to defend the temple and the deities. Why do we not know of this? Why does our history book remain silent? This is the greatest tragedy of India, a point that the author brings out through this story.

Shubra Prakash narrates ‘Agyatavaasa’. This is a story taking you from the present to the past. It brings out the painful events where marauders desecrated our temples. It also highlights our sorrowful history, where our lack of unity helped foreigners take us over and violate our culture. The author’s powerful narration takes you through how deities were protected from the invaders and finally ends up in the present, where it is time to restore the sanctity of the deities.

‘Thakurji’s Promise – Story of the Evolution of Nathdwara’ by Devamalya De is the story of the idol of Thakurji or Krishna. The brave Rajputs of Mewar take up the onerous task of defending Thakurji’s idol from the rampaging Mughals, who are hell bent on destroying all temples and idols at the order of the despot Aurangzeb. The author narrates the story of a journey made to transport Thakurji to His final destination in Udaipur.

Surela Chakraborty’s ‘The Homecoming’ narrates the story of a young archaeologist carrying out explorations at Khajuraho. He goes beyond his duty in his quest to find a lost statue. A recurring dream and a Naga Sadhu lead our hero to go in quest of a statue. You need to read the story to know why he wants the statue and what is its history?

“The Flight of Deities – an Anthology of Desecration & Devotion’ is a brilliantly conceived book. Unfortunately, the tales from our past are hidden and the younger generation do not know of them. They need to know it because it is our history and our heritage. Our culture came close to being destroyed, but we came back only because of our devotion and the efforts of many good souls.

The anthology is a tribute to all these people. It also does the job of presenting our history to people in a simple and enjoyable form. These stories are truly a labour of love, and it is clear that each author has spent long hours researching and writing them. Every Indian needs to read these stories to understand how he can ensure that the tragic incidents of the past are not repeated again.

I really enjoyed reading all the stories from this book. I would strongly recommend them to readers of all ages. Indeed, there are more such tales to be told, and hopefully, a sequel to this book can be brought out. My only grouse with this book is that some formatting and editing errors can be seen, which could have been avoided. Even with this minor issue, I would unhesitatingly give it a 5-star rating.

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