The Secret of the Nagas (Westland, pp.396, Rs.295) is the second book in the Shiva Trilogy by Amish. The Trilogy is based on the premise that Shiva was not a mythical God, but an ordinary human being who became a God because of his karma. The 3 books in the Trilogy trace the journey of Shiva from a human being to that of a God.
The Immortals of Meluha is the first book in the series. It follows the journey of Shiva from his beginnings as a Tibetan tribal leader to that of an immigrant to Meluha (the area that we now know was the site of the great Indus Valley Civilization) to becoming aware of the extraordinary destiny that awaits him and his first attempts at fulfilling that destiny. For more on the first book, you can read my review right here.
The second book begins in Ayodhya with yet another skirmish between Shiva and Sati, and the Naga, who Shiva suspects was responsible for the death of his friend, Brihaspati. Yet again, the Naga escapes. By now Shiva is obsessed with hunting down the Nagas (an ostracised community of deformed beings with extraordinary skills, power and strength), and particularly that one specific Naga.
Shiva. Lord Shiva. The Destroyer. One of the Hindu Trinity. Mahadev. Nataraja. Husband of Parvati or Sati. The Supreme Yogi.
Most Indians, and certainly all Hindus, know Shiva in all these forms and then some more. For millions he is a revered God, an ishta devta, worshipped in his myriad forms. Probably, that’s why many of his devotees do not think of Shiva’s origins — perhaps, the fact that Shiva is a God and is, therefore, eternal inhibits them from thinking about his beginnings.
The author of The Immortals of Meluha(Westland, pp.412, Rs.195), Amish, has no such inhibitions. The first book in the Shiva Trilogy, it introduces Shiva as an ordinary human being with an extraordinary destiny in store for him. A destiny which makes him a saviour and a god, and whose arrival has been prophesied in an ancient legend.
It is the year 1900 BC in the area that the world today knows as the site of the Indus Valley Civilisation. But the people living there at that time call it Meluha, a near-perfect, disciplined society that lives by the rules laid down by Lord Rama himself. A caste-based society where every member’s place is determined not by birth, but by his/her abilities.
A society that is almost immortal due to the availability of somras, an anti-ageing potion, for all its members. This is the society of the Suryavanshis or descendents of the sun.
The Banashankari Temple site has been a place of worship for about 14 centuries or so, though the current temple building is only about 200 years old. The temple’s name is derived from its location in the Tilakaranya forest. The main deity, Banashankari is also known as Shakambari or the vegetable goddess. Banashankari was the kuldevata or the tutelary deity for the Chalukya kings of the 7th century.
The two Bhootnatha Temples of Badami are located in one of the most picturesque settings that I have seen in my travels. In the photograph below, the Agastya Teertha or lake is spread out with the Bhootnatha Temple on the eastern bank visible somewhere near the centre of the photograph. Though I had seen pictures of the Agastya Teertha and the Bhootnatha Temple in a similar setting, the feeling of “Wow” is quite different when you see it yourself, than the “Wow” you feel when you see a photograph.
The Bhootnatha Temples are dedicated to Lord Shiva—Shiva in the form of the God of souls, spirits and ghosts. Built out of red sandstone probably sourced from the surrounding hills, the two temples are placed opposite one another at the eastern and western banks of the Agastya Teertha. The approach to the Agastya Teertha and the Bhootnatha Temples from Badami Caves is via a narrow and winding path that passes through a village.
It was around 5 pm when we arrived at the banks of the Agastya Teertha. From there we could see both the Bhootnatha Temples. The sun, which had been playing hide and seek with the clouds and us the whole afternoon, came out for a brief while. Almost on cue, the strains of a shehnai began, probably played from western Bhootnatha temple. The strains soon grew louder and discernible as Raga Sarang.
The first time I heard about Badami was in my undergraduate Geology class nearly 20 years back. It was a class on the Geological Time Scale and we were being shown slides from various parts of India and the world as examples of different geological time periods. I still remember the Badami slide from that class—the sheer red sandstone cliffs, silhouetted against a deep blue sky. It was love at first sight.
At that time I had absolutely no idea that Badami was also the location of rock-cut cave-temples dating from the 6th century. I got to know about this only a couple of years back, when one of my brothers visited the cave-temples of Badami and shared his photographs. Now, it was love at second sight!
When the opportunity to visit Badami, along with other heritage places in North Karnataka, as part of an organised tour group came up, I grabbed it with both hands. I applied for leave from work a full month in advance, juggled deadlines, prayed hard, etc., etc.
Bijapur was our first halt and after an overnight stay in that town, we left early next morning for Badami, with a short halt at the Almatti Dam Gardens. By noon, the red sandstone cliffs of Badami appeared in the horizon. There is an interesting reason as to how Badami got its name. Someone in the historical or mythological past, and I don’t know who, felt that the red stones were the colour of badam or almonds. And hence, the name!