Nestled against the backdrop of the sacred mountain Gauriparvat, the mythical land of Mahishmathi stands as a powerful and indomitable empire. Deep inside the Gauriparvat resides the secret behind the kingdom’s invincibility, the enigmatic Gaurikanta stones. A set of very powerful people is determined to protect this secret at all costs, even when it means driving innocent souls to death. Oblivious to all these, an orphan named Sivagami grows up in Mahishmathi with the searing desire to avenge her father’s death and bring downfall to the mighty king of the empire. The Rise of Sivagami is an engrossing saga of ambition, treachery, revenge, loyalty, and the fight to gain power.
Anand Neelakantan’s The Rise of Sivagami is the first book of the trilogy titled Baahubali: Before the Beginning. It is a prequel to S S Rajamouli’s magnum opus Baahubali, a two-part visual splendour that enamoured cinema lovers from across India and beyond. It is one of those few books where the writer adapted the story from a film series. Such was the strength of the formidable characters of the grand movie that they required a prequel of their own in the form of a book series!
Plot of The Rise of Sivagami
As the name suggests, The Rise of Sivagami is the story of Sivagami, depicted in the movie as a charismatic, highly principled, and strong-willed warrior, mother, and ruler. The book trails the story to her childhood when fate deals her a cruel blow. As a five-year-old child, Sivagami witnesses her father being branded a traitor and sentenced to death in a cruel manner by the king of Mahishmathi. That sows the seeds of dissent in her and the feisty orphan grows up with the motive to seek revenge for her father’s death by destroying the empire of Mahishmathi and its royal family.
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Not that Mahishmathi lacks enemies by any means. Even though the king commands the respect of his subjects and the incredible loyalty of his slaves, there are many who have reasons to loathe him. Conspirators, traitors, and assailants are weaving their trap around him. Armed with her father’s manuscript written in the Paisachi language, when a 17-year-old Sivagami starts on her quest to fulfil her aim, destiny brings her way unexpected friends and unanticipated enemies. In the process, she unveils dangerous secrets of the kingdom.
Though Sivagami is the protagonist of the book, the story is not about her revenge tale alone. It ventures to reveal the hideous nature of the Mahishmathi rulers. Behind the façade of the great kingdom and its loyal subjects, the true face of Mahishmathi is a lot murkier than what meets the eye. Nothing is as it seems. The book also sketches how the actions of Kattappa, the inflexible loyal slave for whom duty comes before everything else, impact the course of the story.
From women warriors to seductive prostitutes, and from corrupt government officials to conniving eunuchs, there are various subplots in the book that take readers on a flight of deep secrets, sinister agendas, and a falsehood that can shake the very core of the Mahishmathi kingdom. Among all these, the central themes of the mysterious Gaurikanta stones and the Paisachi manuscript never lose their hold on the reader’s mind.
The climax of the book leaves the readers on a cliff-hanger. Given that it is the first book of the trilogy, there are a few loose ends that keep readers guessing and waiting for the next instalment in this roller coaster ride of love, greed, lust, and intrigue.
Characters of The Rise of Sivagami
The Rise of Sivagami has an interesting mix of diverse characters. Neelakantan brings to life forty new characters in this book. With so many characters seeking attention, it may seem difficult to follow their tracks smoothly. But the master story-teller does a wonderful job of fleshing out each character effectively and ensuring that they take the story forward.
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Among the most remarkable characters is of course Sivagami. The spirited young girl gets entangled in a number of difficult situations before she arrives at a crossroad which may change her course of life. How she handles the situation remains to be seen in the next part of the trilogy, but her strength of character and determination shines through in this book. Even when the odds are against her, she refuses to compromise. She is fiery as well as compassionate. She doesn’t shy away from taking immense risks to accomplish her objective. For the fans of the Baahubali movie series, it will be quite exciting to discover how she goes from despising the loathsome Prince Bijjaladeva to becoming his wife over the course of the next two books. Also, from wanting to destroy Mahishmathi to becoming the Rajmata or Queen Mother, Sivagami’s journey has just started through this book.
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Kattappa comes across as another character that gives the story a unique dimension. The 21-year-old fiercely loyal Kattappa is portrayed as the personal slave of Prince Bijjaladeva in the book. Bound by tradition and duty, Kattappa is ever-ready to serve his master and even lay down his life without blinking an eyelid. Nothing is more important to him than his vow of servitude, be it his family, his conscience, his freedom, or his life. He continues doing his master’s bidding even as he goes through inner turmoil. One gets to see how his equation changes with his dear brother Shivappa during the course of the story, but his loyalty to the empire and his master remains unaffected.
Other diverse characters
The book also focuses on the arrogant and debauched young prince Bijjaladeva and his exact contrast, Prince Mahadeva. Other important characters like Maharaja Somadeva, Mahapradhana Parameswara, Upapradhana Skandadasa, Bhoomipathi Pattaraya, Khanipathi Hidumba, Keki- the eunuch, Jeemotha- the pirate, Ally- the warrior, and Shivappa are well-crafted and have a major influence on the storyline.
The story unfolds with a steady pace and never slackens its hold on the readers. After the initial pages of character introduction, the story moves forward effortlessly. As one delves deep into the book, Rajamouli’s magnificent portrait of Mahishmathi is replaced by a very different one created by Neelakantan. The dark and treacherous side of Mahishmathi is splendidly brought alive by the author. Creating this alternative world of Mahishmathi is no mean feat, given the impact the movie had on the audience. The gripping narration and the detailing make for an interesting read. The lucid language and the twists and turns keep the reader engaged till the end.
With the larger-than-life characters of Baahubali captivating the minds of the audience, the book does full justice while presenting an insight into their grand world. No doubt, The Rise of Sivagami is a delightful read for all Baahubali fans. As a prequel, it helps to augment the understanding of the characters and their actions as depicted in the movies. What’s interesting is that the book has all the intriguing elements to capture the interest of any reader, whether they have seen the movies or not. As a historical fiction laced with graphic details, the book enthrals with its one of its kind captivating tales. On the whole, The Rise of Sivagami is an exceptional work of fiction by Anand Neelakantan and a must read for the Baahubali fans as well as the admirers of historical drama.