The Rise of Sivagami by Anand Neelakantan is the first book of the trilogy Baahubali: Before the beginning. Long long ago, I had read Neelakantan’s Asura, the Ramayana from Ravana’s perspective. It was a captivating read. Of course, any telling of the Ramayana is a pleasure to read. They are all essentially the original fan fiction tales, IMHO.
So, have you watched Baahubali? The movie has two really strong characters – Sivagami and Kattappa. First, you see Sivagami (played by Ramya Krishnan) fight warriors whilst feeding a baby and then flee. She manages to save the baby at the cost of her life. Kattappa (played by Sathyaraj) is shown as the humble manservant/slave to the heir to the kingdom of Mahishmati. The movie ends with Kattappa telling the tale of Amarendra Baahubali, and confessing to killing his king.
Sivagami and Kattappa are truly bad ass characters. And the actors playing them are in no way lacking either. The Rise of Sivagami shows us what came before. Who was Kattappa? Who was Sivagami? And how did they get to where they are in the movie. The Rise of Sivagami is essentially a flashback into their histories. And also a glimpse into the complexities of the movie. Some questions are answered and for the rest, we have to wait for books 2 and 3.
Sivagami was orphaned at the age of 5 when her father was branded a traitor and tortured to death. 12 years later, she wants vengeance – against the king, kingdom and the people of Mahishmati. Growing up with her guardian, she is now sent to live her life in an orphanage for a few months, until she turns 18. But, she is also told a secret by one of her father’s maid servant on her death bed. This leads Sivagami to take a lot of decisions and strengthens her need for revenge.
The two princes of Mahishmati also play a part in the book – Mahadeva and Bijjala. We have seen them in the movie and here we know how their young minds are being shaped and understand so much more. The king plays an important part as well. In the few pages that he features, he comes across as a shrewd and manipulative person.
Kattappa is born a slave, the son of the King’s slave. The king obviously values and trusts his slave, while his eldest son & heir, Bijjala is ruthless. Mahadeva is far more just and compassionate. Kattappa’s rules and all that he is taught about being a slave is questioned by his younger brother who dreams of a free life, one with dignity and respect. Things come to a point that Kattappa still a slave and obedient, wonders about justice and fair play. He begins to act accordingly, as much as he can while being a slave.
There are so many more characters of interest in this book. And since the series is a trilogy, the next two books should be more interesting. But The Rise of Sivagami is packed with twists and turns, vile plots and gripping wars. Betrayal, scams, and prejudice find a prominent place as well.
The Rise of Sivagami is perhaps an Indian version of the Game of Thrones. There is a dwarf, an honest minister(who gets killed), a good prince, a bad prince, a glutton, wars, seduction, corruption, scandals, conveniently subjective piety, bigotry etc. And something tells me the next two books are going to be along the same vein. Hopefully, Anand Neelakantan does not make us wait for years before the next book of the series is out.
Also, this is the first time I am reading a book that has taken off from a movie and not the other way around. Though the author has worked best to give us an insight into the background and the story of Mahishmati, I fear I will always like Asura better than The Rise of Sivagami. Anyway, I enjoyed reading this book. It was insightful about how Sivagami and Kattappa, and gave a much better understanding of the kingdom of Mahishmati. It is written in a very simple manner and is paced well. There are no boring parts that you may want to skip.
I would definitely recommend it. Go read.
My rating: 4 of 5 stars