Adi Parva: Churning of the Ocean

 Author: Amruta Patil

Illustrator: Amruta Patil

Published: 2012 by HarperCollins

No. of Pages: 276

Genre: Mythology

Subthemes: Mahabharata

Timeline: Fictional


Adi Parva – Churning of the Ocean’, derives its name and its stories from the first book of the Indian epic poem, Mahabharata; and Amruta Patil’s version is a story stunningly retold. More accurately, it consists of the knots of many stories woven into a single thread, which pulls the reader towards new directions long after the novel is closed.

However, to see the novel as only a derivative would be doing its creator a great disservice. Like the Mahabharata itself, Amruta Patil’s Adi Parva is also a story about storytelling. After all, the novel ends with a note by the author articulating the need for retelling stories, particularly cosmic ones.
The novel conceptually achieves this goal by creating a frame narrative, with Akashganga, the queen of earthly and celestial rivers serving as a sutradhaar (storyteller). The novel shifts from the tales narrated by Akashganga to her interactions with her audience in the city of elephants – Hastinapur. In essence, Akashganga is a sutradhaar nestled within another sutradhaar, Amruta Patil.
While the meta-narratives of the novel might at times be difficult to follow, the reader needs to only stay with the thread, as is consistently stated within the novel. Boons and curses that seem irrelevant in one page, would often regain their breath in another page.

Adi Parva has a myriad cast of characters, and one well versed in Indian mythology would be delighted with the wide scope of colours used to depict these characters on a printed page, sometimes literally. Being a story about storytellers, Amruta Patil crafts her novel as a painterly work, with every brush stroke and sketch mark retaining its visibility. Sometimes, beneath the layers of colour the reader would find printed fragments of newspapers and magazines, giving the impression that the novel was created by painting over many already printed pages.

The colours, in sequences wherein Akashganga is interacting with her audience, are all greyed out, reflective of the dark nature of the current yuga. However, the stories that Akashganga narrates are filled with lush, exotic, and bright colours; colours that would put the neon glow of any modern metropolis to shame. What’s more impressive is the brilliant array of skin tones that the characters of the novel possess, some fair, some golden, some dusky, and all stunningly beautiful in their own unique ways. Written by a woman, it should come as no surprise that the novel is sensitive to issues of gender; literally verbalizing its audiences concern for a gendered approach to storytelling. Brimming with colour and sensuality, Adi Parva serves as an important reminder for the need to highlight the work of women creators.

Any answer to the question of where the story of the novel begins and where it ends would be thoroughly inadequate, for the novel presents only a mesmerising sliver from a multiverse of interconnected stories. Much of the novel depicts the rivalry between avian and reptilian creatures, which as admitted by the author herself, serve as a metaphor for the future rivalry between the Kauravas and the Pandavas. However, the novel goes well beyond this story, depicting a humorous chicken and egg tale of creation, the rivalry between Devas and Asuras, the follies of Devlok, and much more. While the novel may seem highly fragmented at first, the sutradhaar weaves her narratives towards a wonderful end, which in turn serves as a beginning to another set of stories. Thankfully, this graphic novel has found its sequel in Amruta Patil’s ‘Sauptik: Blood and Flowers’.

By retelling Adi Parva in the manner that she did, Amruta Patil brings out the relevance of an ancient set of stories in the modern yuga. Even though the novel possesses a sequel, this story retold would be reread time and again.

As it should.

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