It was some years ago, when I was still young and impressionable, that I first laid my hands on the book 'Mayūra' by Sri.Devudu Narasimha Shastri. I remember that I had liked the book a lot, though some of the intricacies in plot and emotion were beyond my comprehension. For a long time I had wanted to re-read the book, and recently my wish came true*.
The original story of 'Mayūra' is a fairly familiar one to many of us, from our History classes. An orphan boy raised as a brahmin, Mayura Sharma lives in Kanchi, belonging to the Pallava kingdom. He has an altercation with one of the princes of the kingdom and is forced to leave Kanchi. The rest of the story is about how he overthrows the regime of the Pallavas and establishes the Kadamba kingdom. History tells us this much, and it takes a master craftsman like Devudu to make a beautiful sculpture out of this fine granite. He has added his own details - ministers loyal to the old king, wars fought with the brain and not with brawn, an enemy everyone would wish to have and a love interest. The result is a book that guarantees hours of absorbing reading.
'Mayura' is not as heavy as Devudu's other books**. The language is definitely a lot lighter (more Kannada and less Sanskrit :)). One can see expressions like "ತಲೆ ಕುಟ್ಟ" and "ಬೊಡ್ಡೀ ಮಕ್ಕಳು". Rural Kannada is used very effectively. There is more action and less description and hence this book is much more egalitarian than his other three novels.
In his descriptions, Devudu has followed the path of our classical writers. One cannot forget the way he describes the cow Nandini in his mahabrAhmaNa. It is easy to see the touch of Kalidasa there (बिभ्रती श्वेतरोमाङ्कं सन्ध्येव शशिनं नवम्). It is so even in this book. When Mayura asks how his mother looked, Narasimhadatta replies "ನೇರಳೆ ಹಣ್ಣಿಗಷ್ಟು ಕಪ್ಪನ್ನು ಕೊಡುವ ಕೂದಲು, ದಂತವನ್ನು ಚಿನ್ನದಿಂದ ತೊಳೆದಂತೆ ಮೈಬಣ್ಣ..". As in his other books, the descriptions of nature are lyrical. His writing is poetry in prose. The beauty of this book is that it is definitely a work of great erudition, but also maintains simplicity.
Devudu had an uncanny eye for the beauty of words. He has used a couple of Kalidasa's nuggets to great advantage in Mayura. The first instance is when the Pallava princess Premavati suspects that the merchant Gupta is Mayura himself, and receives a present from him. The present is a peacock (mayUra) that, when given the key, turns around and bows. Later, a priest brings her a message from Gupta, apparently about a dream that he had. Immediately the princess retorts "मायूरी मदयति मार्जना मनांसि", and then, feeling shy, runs away. Now this line occurs in the first act of the Malavikagnimitram. Mother Kaushiki says this line when getting ready for the competition between the dance teachers. In both cases, the very air is full of the moisture of longing and the fragrance of romance. There is the sound of the beating of māyūrī drums keeping time with melodious music, jingling anklets and hearts full of yearning. In that one line of harmless-sounding reply, the princess indicates that she suspects Gupta to be Mayura, and that she is in love with him. An outsider would have just thought that she referred to the gift of the peacock.
The other heartwarming instance happens after the princess is married to Mayuravarma, who is a king by then. She is singing a line from the Meghadūta "इष्टे वस्तुन्युपचितरसाः प्रेमराशीभवन्ति". (My fervent opinion is that each verse from the Meghadūta is a nugget of sheer joy. Well, almost all of them. The beauty of these words, these sounds joined together in the beautiful Mandākrāntā meter is so great that so many times, I cease to think about the meaning and play the sounds in my head over and over again). Again, one can see the queen playing the veena with the king watching her with satisfaction on one side, and on another side there is the yakshi playing the veena, thinking of her husband.
Today is the age of pacifists. While warmongering is not good, it is basic human (even animal) nature to defend one's territory, and not to do so is to go against nature. Mayura probably had another interest in having a cordial relationship with the Pallavas, and so he resorted to bloodless war, even when he had a full-fledged army fighting for him. The warring sequences are simplistic but fantastic, and capture the imagination well. The simplicity and far-fetched-ness of the sieges are just afterthoughts. Such is the writing prowess of Devudu that when one is reading the book, one is sure that that was exactly how Mayura became the king. The plot is woven delicately and intricately, and makes it hard to put the book down once you pick it up.
Incidentally, this book was made into a movie starring Raj Kumar and Manjula. As it is with almost all movies based on books, the movie fails in a lot of things. It does inspire the viewer with patriotism but brings in unnecessary Kannada-Tamil controversy. But it is certainly a movie that can be watched once.
In my opinion, a good book can be differentiated from a not-so-good one by its ability to elevate and calm the mind. All of Devudu's books are just that - good. They leave the reader calm, peaceful and happy. Dear Reader, if you read Kannada but have not read Devudu so far, do find Mayura and read it. And do tell me about it!
*This post was written some time back.
** A note on Devudu: Devudu Narasimha Shastry is a well-known Kannada author. He has written other books like Mahakshatriya, Mahabrahmana and Mahadarshana. Mahakshatriya is the story of King Nahusha and Mahabrahmana is the story of how Kaushika became Vishwamitra. Mahadarshana is the story of Yajnavalkya. This last one can probably be called his magnum opus, because of its depth and the magnanimity of the subject itself. Recently, I also came to know that he translated each verse of the 'Yoga vAsishTha'