Mandodari: Queen of Lanka

Written by Manini J. Anandani
Review by Waheed Rabbani

In mythological times in India, an apsara is enamored with the god Shiva, who seduces her. Although it enrages his consort, Parvati, who transforms the apsara into a frog destined to live in a well, Shiva’s decree reincarnates her into a beauty. Later an asura king rescues and adopts her, naming her Mandodari. Subsequently, Ravana, the king of Lanka, falls in love and marries her. Ravana is a benevolent king who possesses ten heads that give him extraordinary powers, such as knowledge and warfare skills, which he uses to destroy evil and enlarge his empire. But he is lustful and becomes egotistical. To Queen Mandodari’s dismay, he marries more women and takes on many concubines. In her loving way, Mandodari tries to offer advice and guide him toward a righteous path. Nevertheless, Ravana takes revenge for an impropriety committed by Lord Rama. A war between Ravana and Rama ensues that has dire consequences for Mandodari, Ravana, and Lanka.

Manini Anandani has brought to life Mandodari’s story in this retelling of the Hindu epic, the Ramayana, which was based mostly on Ravana’s lifetime. While the original Ramayana is a classic poem of nearly 24,000 verses that require careful reading, this novel written in Mandodari’s first-person voice can be enjoyed in a few sittings. A helpful glossary of the numerous Hindi/Sanskrit words is included. Although the novel has a contemporary quality and style, the timeless themes of the original masterpiece are well maintained. The lessons of Mandodani’s depiction as a perfect wife standing firmly by her imperfect and conceited husband and his downfall, mainly due to his indiscretions and the actions of tricksters, are as relevant today as they were in those times. The novel does transport us to the mythical world of the Hindu gods, goddesses, and customs still practiced today.