Koral Dasgupta creates true wonder with her new book Ahalya.

The titular character is a demi-goddess from Hindu mythology, in some versions a naiad, created to perfection. As a huge fan of Indian mythology, I was so excited to hear about this retelling from a feminine perspective and I dove into it eagerly. Dasgupta’s novel brings into light cultural aspects otherwise hidden by patriarchal retelling: Ahalya is a brilliant novel because it infuses femininity, sexuality and power into the Ramayana universe.

According to the myth, Ahalya was molded into the form of the perfect woman by Brahma and brought up by Nature. She was married to the Sage Gautama (one of the seven revered sages) However, her unsurpassable beauty attracted the attention of the king of Gods: Indra, who while diguised as Gautama seduced her into sleeping with him. Thus, a young woman who had yearned for physical affection and love from an otherwise oblivious saint got cursed and turned into stone for her unknowing infidelity. 

There’s this particular line in the prologue of the novel, which immediately drew me to the book: “You will attract a million suitors obsessing over the beauty I craft with care, but the same beauty will be too blinding for a lover to trace the path to your soul,” as said by Brahma, the creator of the universe. This one particular statement was chilling to me and reminded me of another line from one of my favorite books, Donna Tartt’s The Secret History, “Beauty is terror. Whatever we call beautiful we quiver before it.”

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💜BOOK GIVEAWAY 💜 We’ve teamed up with the amazing author @koraldasgupta to give away the absolutely breathtaking book, “Ahalya.” TEN WINNERS will receive their own brilliantly-written mythological novel, centered around one fascinating woman in India. // #thetempestIRL #thetempestbooks #TTregram 🔁: @booksonthedelhimetro ✨ To enter, follow ALL of these steps: ✨ 1️⃣ ⁣Follow us & @koraldasgupta & @thetempestbooks (we’ll be checking 👀)⁣ 2️⃣ Like this photo and tag three friends in separate comments 3️⃣ For an extra entry, share this giveaway in your stories and make sure to tag us! ✨ RULES: ✔️Open INTERNATIONALLY! ✔️Winner chosen via random.org ✔️Giveaway will run until Tuesday, October 27, 2020 at 11:59 p.m. EST. ✔️This giveaway is not affiliated with Instagram in any way. ⁣ ✨ Thanks for entering and GOOD LUCK! __ POST DESCRIPTION: The novel “Ahalya” is surrounded by beautiful items.

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Beauty has been a fascinating element throughout history, and Ahalya manages to capture the raw element of beauty in Hindu scriptures in a stunning portrayal of a woman who was wronged in history, cursed for her sexuality and later redeemed by Lord Rama. Ahalya is one of the five Panch Kanyas who are considered chaste and sacred and she is praised for her undaunting loyalty to her husband, but cursed for adultery as well. The Panch Kanyas are five iconic heroines in the Hindu epics whose names are recited to dispel sins. They include Ahalya, Tara, Sita and Mandodari from the Ramayana and Draupadi (or sometimes Kunti) from the Mahabharata.

The author says, “Panch Kanya has the presence of Indra in their lives and I wanted to discover this less explored but very interesting deity in popular literature. The term Panch Kanya, is translated by great scholars as five virgins! And the general perception of Indra is that of a philanderer, a womanizer. So a philanderer and five virgins – doesn’t it intrigue already?”

I know that there have been an influx of feminist retellings of Hindu myths, there’s A Palace of Illusions by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni, Kavita Kane has a host of books like Menaka’s Choice, Karna’s Wife, etc. Devdutt Pattanaik’s retelling is different as well. But Koral Dasgupta’s approach is more simplistic. It is a shorter read, and doesn’t delve into unnecessary mythological history but captures Ahalya’s essence nonetheless.

The image shows the book jacket of Ahalya written by Koral Dasgupta with description written on the left panel and an illustration of a woman on the right panel.
[Image description: The image shows the book jacket of Ahalya written by Koral Dasgupta with description written on the left panel and an illustration of a woman on the right panel.] Via Ahalya by Koral Dasgupta
Ahalya perfectly captures the heroine’s discovery of self. Hinduism is a beautiful religion, earliest retellings of which have delved and captured sex. However, these have been lost due to deep-rooted patriarchy of the Brahmanical society, but Koral manages to bring those careful keen moments of female physical pleasure into a book about a woman who just craves physical affection.

There is a haunting line in Chapter 4, that I absolutely loved: “Seldom did I know that boundless pleasure attracts cruel reality.” Pleasure is oddly defined in Indian mythology. When I asked Koral how she felt about sexual pleasure in Hindu mythology she replied saying, “Hinduism connects sexuality with spirituality, ranging from homosexuality to tantra practices. Brilliant stories from the Hindu philosophy have explained various versions of pleasure – and interestingly, both men and women have been quite open about their desire. I find that empowering and equally normalizing, given that pleasure is sinful in our ‘modern’ society!”

What’s best about Ahalya is that it showcases the politics of the universe. Koral’s interpretation of this Sati suggests that Gautama was the only true loser in the grand scheme of things, along with Brahma of course, for believing in his wife’s infidelity. I loved the way the words were used as metaphors, and how storms, rains, and nature was described in the book. Ahalya captures petrichor, and illuminates self-pleasuring. You feel empowered the moment Ahalya orgasms and creates magic within herself. Ahalya’s relationship with the stream and the wind is sorrowful but leaves a mark.

Again, Ahalya showcases a beautiful blossoming friendship that turned into eventual love between Gautama and Ahalya. The gradual transformation of innocence into self-discovery is enhanced in the book utilizing their relationship that isn’t much talked about when we acquaint ourselves with the myth.

I found the author’s writing style excellent. Though I indeed wish a little more could have been delved about Indra’s trickery, and the introduction before the actual incident happened between Gautama, Indra and Ahalya could have been smaller, I have no other qualms about the book. It is an honest retelling that dramatized and fictionalized a myth and this might be my favorite retelling I have read this year. 

So, go ahead and order a copy because you will not regret reading this incredible novel. And it is the first in a series so once you’re done you have more to look forward to. After all, who doesn’t want to read a feminist author’s work who says this?

The Sati Series will not follow the forced male-bashing path of feminism, which a few have unfortunately reduced it to. This will be an attempt to understand the women and their magical abilities. Women are magic.”

Here is an exclusive excerpt of the book:

On nights when the moon observed its fortnightly leave, the fireflies came rushing in hoards to light up my path with their glowing phosphorous. Other than the Mist, only Mandakini looked happy to have me around. The natural charm and irresistible energy was perhaps embedded within her character. As I moved closer the water came gushing to soak my feet and the cloth hanging towards the bottom. With great force it formed fragile bubbles on the surface. I tried touching the bubbles and they ruptured. I went deeper into the river, now standing knee-deep. The water stared back, waiting for me to trust more and offer myself unbarred. With a tender touch it charmed me to resign and let go of my non-existent hold over everything permanent or perishable. I bent my knees and fell on the sand for the water to run over every corner of my body and ease my restless muscles. With unpredictable strokes of her waves, Mandakini played around splashing not only on my body but also soothing my overcast mind. Within a few moments of meeting she made me feel alive and wanted! I got up to venture closer and embrace the welcome more wholeheartedly. She let me slip and fall, yet held me firmly with her aqua hands girdled around my waist; her ploy would unsettle, not hurt. And then she laughed!

In my desperation to seek acceptance I assumed this was special, meant exclusively for me. And yet I strongly felt that there was something brewing between the two of us. Something that indicated we had a long way to go, together. A kinship was growing. At times she would vigorously participate in a rugged sport, bouncing me off from one bank to the other. And there were also days when she would let me float on her like a stray leaf, without a destination, bereft of a distinguished aspiration! Perhaps Mandakini too was deprived of a human connect as much as I. Gautam and his disciples may have been as indifferent with her, as they were with me.

Years passed.

I was least aware of the changes that had started showing on my body, transforming me from a girl to a woman. Only when drops of red trickled down my limbs I reached out to my timeless companion, the Mist, frightened that I must have been devoured by some cureless ailment. Nervous and agitated I asked the Mist whether I should reach out to Gautam, asking him for some of his unfailing medication. With tender care the Mist held me close to herself and explained the wonders of a woman’s body. I listened in awe. And one morning the transparent water of the Mandakini reflected an image which was starkly different from what I had seen when I had peered for the first time. My features had changed, the curves far sharper, confidence high and the physique full of suspense. Nature and its unexpected turns now failed to keep me intrigued all through the day. Some other illegitimate call occupied my dreams. It was as immoral as crossing well-defined boundaries fixed by no one, yet everyone knew of their existence. The Earth beyond the borderline felt like an inevitable stop towards my ultimate yet vague destination! I started walking towards it fearlessly.

I fantasized of a forbidden touch. I was standing at the threshold of a mysterious gate with a broken lock. Hesitant hands dared to push it open. A flood of glittering clouds formed a colourful hammock, inviting me to shed apprehensions and embrace the untamed. I closed my eyes to receive a kind, imaginary face with strong unrelenting hands pleasuring my lean built, his passion igniting the depths of my soul. Not a single person on Earth was aware of the explosion I felt within. I floated in the joy of discovering myself, far beyond the capacity of any great teacher to analyse or interpret. I touched myself with an urgency, to unravel the miracles that a body can bring to the mind. I felt with my hands the smooth skin and beyond, exploring myself a lot more than I ever did. A gentle press or a robust stroke invoked freedom of a different kind. No other knowledge, no experience, no wisdom had ever unravelled so much about myself to me as did this blasphemous plunge into self-indulgence.

Did that intrigue you? Buy Ahalya for only $5.38 now!

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Deboparna Poddar

By Deboparna Poddar

Junior Love Editor

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