A very fertile land ruled by an able righteous ruler attracts the envy of the other clans of his own tribe. These other clans plot the ruler’s downfall by forming some sort of a Mahagathbandan. The other clans in the tribe are 9 in number. The combined forces of 9 attack 1 and the 1 not only survives the attack but decimates the 9.
This is the famous story of the Dasharajna, or the battle of 10 kings that is recorded in the Rig Veda. The 9 bhArata clans comprising of Alina, Anu, Druhyu, Puru, Bhrigu, Matsya, Bhalanas, Parsu and Pani guided by the Bharata preceptor Vishwamitra attack the Trtsu king Sudas who is guided by Vashistha. Mandala 7 of the Rigveda describes how the battle was won when Vashistha summons Indra and Varuna to Sudas’s aid, and how the 9 kings get defeated owing to the combined wrath of Indra and Varuna. This is the topic that Ashok Banker tries to recreate in his “Ten Kings”.
Ashok Banker is famous for his re-interpretation of the Ramayana. I had read half of the first book of that series titled “The prince of Ayodhya” (TPOA) and found the writing to be aweful. The plot was really lame. That was one of the few books that I gave up midway. As an aside, I haven’t attempted to read Amish’s “Scion of Ikshvaku” primary because of being scarred by the TPOA experience. Anyway, given this rather bad prior experience, I approached “Ten Kings” with some hesitation. But since this was the only available fictional account of the Vedic age battle, I decided to give it a try and bought the book.
I found the writing to be much better than TPOA. The characters in this book were far more realistic than the earlier one. There were a few jarring notes in the form of anachronistic dialogue that were to be found here and there. For example, one wouldn’t expect a nurse to be called as “dai-ma” during the Vedic times especially when father and mother were being referred to as “pitr” and “matr” respectively. There were also a few characters who seemed slightly out of place (or time!). But apart from these minor inconveniences the book was rather good and was able to hold my attention such that I could read through the entire thing in half a day. I wasn’t really expecting to get a feel for the Vedic way of life in this book like I would have from an author like Devudu. So I wasn’t disappointed on that front.
Coming to the main theme of the book, Banker’s description of how Vashitha’s intellect coupled with Sudasa’s battle strategy won them the war is very believable. His rationalization of how Indra and Varuna came to the aid of Sudasa has a nice touch to it. The motivation for the 9 clans to unite against Sudasa has also been explained well. These are things that are missing from the Rig Veda narrative, so it was good to see Banker fill these gaps in a coherant manner.
The book looks to be the first in a series of books that talks about the Harappa and the Mohenjadaro civilization. So this book literally lays the foundation for the series.
I will rate the book at 3.5 out of 5 and recommend it to anyone who would be interested in this fascinating story of the battle of 10 kings.