Saturday, 23 November 2013

Book Review: The Pregnant King

Book: The Pregnant King

Author: Dr. Devdutt Pattanaik

Publisher: Penguin

ISBN: 9780143063476

Pages: 360


Hindu mythology holds many important events and stories which have often been handed down generation after generation as part of society's ways and norms. The story of King Yuvanashva and his unique story is validated in the Harivamsa and some of the Puranas. However, the Vishnu Purana and Bhagavata Purana tell his extraordinary story about him.

The popular and just ruler of Vallabhi, King Yuvanashva, is an obedient son and an equally devoted husband to his wives. However, even the happiest of homes have secret tragedies hidden in their midst. Yuvanashva, a King who is denied his right to sitting on the throne by his own mother because he fails to produce an heir to the throne, even after having three wives. As a result, Shilavati, the king’s mother, refuses to give him permission to join the famous battle of Kurukshetra as the king is unable to sire a worthy heir for his throne despite years of devotion and rituals. 


After years of trying naturally, in sheer desperation, he turns to Yaja and Upajaya, two powerful sages, who create a magical potion that when taken by his queens will impregnate them. This backfires when he accidentally drinks the potion that was meant for his wives and hence, the strange title of the story. Here arises a series of complications; a pregnant king? The whole book then follows Yuvanashva and him fighting his maternal instincts. One of his first dilemmas being what should his son call him, mother or father? Perhaps, the greatest irony of the tale is that the virile King faces his life’s greatest dilemma, when the great upholder of dharma and the epitome of manhood longs to hear his son call him ‘Mother’ just once, before he breathes his last. 

Through the book, we are introduced to Shilavati, who cannot rule as a king because she is a woman, Pruthalashva, who must sire a child because he is a man, a Yaksha named Sthunakarna, who surrenders his manhood so that Shikhandi (a woman) can become a man and a husband, and later reclaims it, and of the great warrior Arjuna with his many wives, who is forced to disguise himself as a woman when a nymph castrates him. And in this journey, we witness King Yuvanashva’s struggle to be just to all, his conflict with himself, and his duty to bring about Dharma in his kingdom.

Dr. Devdutt Pattanaik plays around with the timeline in this book. At 360 pages, it is a rich and complex weaving of tales intersecting both the Ramayana and the Mahabharata and its characters. The Pregnant King takes its readers through a journey of realism and contemporary ideologies that seem to haunt mankind not just today, but also in a world built around 2000 years ago. The book very aptly points out how thin a line there is between the male and the female powers. The issue of sexuality and gender occupies a large part of our discourse in this day and age when people tend to forget that we ourselves have mythologies and hence come from a culture that was tolerant, but yet very private. 

1 comment:

Saheli Bakshi said...

Really interesting review...you have covered almost all the issues that throb in the book, which most reviews tend to miss out on...can you tell me the texts where i can access the original narrative about yuvanashva's life(all versions are invited) and where can i find them?
Thanks!