Publication Date: December 1st 2016
Publisher: Rupa Publications India
Genres: Mythological Fiction, Retelling
Part of Series? No
Goodreads Blurb: Surpanakha, Ravan’s infamous sister—ugly and untamed, brutal and brazen. This is how she is commonly perceived. One whose nose was sliced off by an angry Lakshman and the one who started a war but was she really just perpetrator of war? Or was she a victim? Was she Lanka’s princess? Or was she the reason for its destruction?
Surpanakha, meaning the woman as hard as nails was born as Meenakshi—the one with beautiful, fish-shaped eyes. Growing up in the shadows of her brothers, who were destined to win wars, fame and prestige, she, instead, charts up a path filled with misery and revenge.
Accused of manipulating events between Ram and Ravan, which culminated in a bloody war and annihilation of her family, Surpanakha is often the most misunderstood character in the Ramayana. Kavita Kané ‘s Lanka’s Princess tells the story from the vantage of this woman more hated than hateful…
This was my first read from the author Kavita Kane. I had heard great things about her work and how she chooses different female characters from Indian mythology and present them with a new angle. People suggested that I should start with her first book, but rather I picked this one as I already had its copy. And I would say, I loved Kavita Kané and her unusual story about Surpanakha.
Ramayana is the epic tale which I believe every Indian have heard while growing up. All the main characters are household names – Ram, Laxman, Sita, Ravan. But the character of Surpanakha is something that we grew up hating. We have been taught that how Laxman cut her nose and in turn, Ravan abducted Sita and then it started the epic war between Ram and Ravan. But do we know more than this about Surpanakha? Do we know who was Surpanakha other than a girl having a cut nose and sister of Ravan? I surely hadn’t known. This story is a fresh take on Surpanakha’s life and lets you go to the details of why she did what she did.
The story starts when Krishna meet Kubja, a hunchback and he cures her. He tells her the story of her past life in which she was Meenakshi a.k.a Surpanakha.
Meenakshi was the fourth child to the learned Rishi Vishravas and Asur Kanya Kaikesi. When she was born, Kaikesi was not at all happy as she wanted a boy, instead she got an ugly, dark-skinned girl. Visharavas was happy with the girl and thought she was as beautiful and dark skinned as her mother but Kaikesi opposed him and never gave that love to Meenakshi that she gave to her fair skinned son Ravan.
Meenakshi grew up in a hatred environment and the only one to love her was her grandmother Taraka who teaches her sorcery and dark magic. Taraka always encouraged her granddaughter to love herself, to call herself beautiful and use that beauty.
When Ravan wins Lanka, as it was her mother’s dream, their father leaves them to live back at the Ashram while the whole family moves to the Lanka. Meenakshi was devastated when her father left. She found her love in Vidyujiva who was an enemy to Ravan. in spite of the hatred from everyone towards Vidyujiva, Meenkashi managed to get married to him. But the fate snatched him from her too. She had hatred for her brother Ravan too much and she was burning in the fire of vengeance. She cursed her brother to die and plotted schemes for his death. her choices lead to the destruction of not only Ravan but the death of her entire generation.
But was she the reason for starting a war or was she really just perpetrator of war? Or was she a victim? Was she Lanka’s princess? Or was she the reason for its destruction?
Character building and writing
Kavita Kane has portrayed a strong and vicious female character here. Meenakshi’s fate was decided as soon as she was born. She was a burden to her mother. She planned to have a boy in order to win Lanka instead she got a girl, though an ugly dark girl, who was of no use to her. But it was Surpanakha’s grandmother who trusted her and changed her faith to be just the opposite to her mother’s thinking. She soon learned magic and sorcery. her grandmother taught her how to use her body and beauty and trained her in the art of seduction. She was independent and was strong enough to defend herself. Her mind was as sharp as her brothers. In a way, she proved herself to be a feminist and decide to stand up for her own rights when no one supported her. Surpanakha had her own opinions and knew when to use something to hurt someone. She was courageous enough to go against her brother Ravan when no one else can be stood against him.
She was the woman portrayed a vamp in Ramayan. We get to know a little more about her in this book as the author here has given her another life in the book.
There are not vast differences in the portrayal of other characters in Ramayan. The main focus was given to the characters in her family like Ravan, Kumbhkaran, Vibhishan, Mandodari, Kaikesi, Vishravas etc. It was quite interesting to read about some lesser known characters specially about Kumbha. All we know about him is he used to spend six-month sleeping/eating. But here it was good to know his point of view on some major events. It was good to know that how loyality to his brother ended him up dead.
The narration of the story is simple and kind of modern-day. The writing is simple and will keep you engaged through each character.
Let’s discuss how beautiful is the cover. The cover depicts the lady Surpanakha herself with burning Lanka in the background. She is wearing a lot of gold depicting that she is the princess of Lanka. She is looking over the burning palace. The illustration shows a mixed feeling of happiness and pain on her face. She is happy as her brother Ravan is doomed but at the same time is sad because all her family paid the price. The eyes of Surpanakha has been beautifully crafted out (her name Meenakshi stands out for – fish eyes). The colours used on the cover are beautiful. The use of Yellow and gold perfectly depict the richness of Lanka. The font used for the title below perfectly compliments the illustration.
Description and impact
This was the first book of its kind that I read. The storyline hasn’t been changed to a great extent. Kavita Kane has kept the story same as the Ramayan. However, the story is from Surpanakha‘s point of view. We often see that Surpanakaha is justifying her actions but they do not help in cleaning her image. She had become a lustful woman who was always seeking revenge and in turn found herself in trouble all the time.
The main thing that piqued my interest towards the book is that Kavita Kane has not tried to show her as a victim or the cruel person. Instead, she has simply shared her lesser known story and has left it to the audience to decide her characteristic.
Another thing that is worth mentioning is that Kavita has not wasted her time dragging each and every part of the Ramayan. Initially, I thought that the story will contain the very basic scenes from Ramayan and will be boring. Instead, she kept her main focus on Surpankaha and skipped the parts which were not relevant to her, yet she has managed to distribute the story very smartly.
I was conflicted with the character of Surpanakha. At times I found myself sympathising with the lonely Meenakshi and got sad with her troubled childhood and at other times I felt exasperated at her never ending thirst for revenge and vengeance. Many times I was irritated by her naïve attitude and her absolute denial to see the truth when her whole family tried to convince her.
There is confliction about other characters too. Ravan is an over-protective brother but yet he does not like his sister much. Kaikesi is sometimes a sweet mother to her daughter but often she hates her daughter for being ugly and dark. Meenakshi loves her father and her fathers seem to love her too as he protected her from her mother many times, but yet he doesn’t love her more than his sons.
What I Liked
- The cover of the book is beautiful and illustration correctly depicts the gist of the story.
- The characters have been created smartly and it was interesting to read about some lesser known characters and their PoV like Kumbha.
- The author hasn’t tried to prove that whether Surpanakha was a saint or a sinner rather she has shown both of her angles.
- The story brings forward an altogether different angle and lesser known facts are more clear.
- The story is fast paced and the language is easy to read.
What I Didn’t Like
- There was a lot of confusion within the characters on who likes whom genuinely and who hates whom.
- The beginning and end were slow paced compared to the middle section of the book.
“Yes, I am a monster!” screeched Meenakshi, her eyes flashing, baring her claws at her mother. “See them? If anyone hurts me, I shall hurt them with these!! I am Surpanakha!”
There was a lot of wealth but a little sign of culture; the luxury in the chamber was senseless, haphazard, and ill-fitting. The marble floor shone with brilliant polish and the sparkle of the chandelier irritated her.
The men needed their women, and often they did not know it.
There was no respect in death, no dignity for the fallen. There was no hero in battle, just corpses. Honour meant nothing once dead: honour was a merit for the living.
Being the first book of Kavita Kane that I read, I really liked it. Mythological fiction is a very tricky genre as I understand. The writer has to keep their facts straight sothat they don’t change them too much and also there is a challenge to bring something new to the reader. Kavita Kane has perfectly blend that mixture in Lanka’s Princess. It is simply brilliant, new and refreshing. I am definitely picking more books by the author in near future. If you love Indian mythology and need some new angle, you should definitely read this.
Read this for a fresh take on the life of Surpanakha, the lesser known character of Ramayana.
Would Recommend to
- Lovers of Mythological fiction, specially Indian mythology.
- Who like to read retellings with fresh perspectives.
- Those who may be interested in Ramayan and its lesser known characters.
Do you like to read mythological fictions? Can you recommend something from another author?
Thanks for reading and stay connected! ♥