By Shaveen Jeewandara “If there is one thing that I’m not – it would be a historian,” laughs Rashantha de Alwis Seneviratne, author of ‘Gods of the Realm’ – a book that retells the tale of Sigiriya with a twist, not limiting itself to the boundaries of history. The book is a much needed oasis [...]

The Sundaytimes Sri Lanka

The story of Sigiriya : This is different


By Shaveen Jeewandara

“If there is one thing that I’m not – it would be a historian,” laughs Rashantha de Alwis Seneviratne, author of ‘Gods of the Realm’ – a book that retells the tale of Sigiriya with a twist, not limiting itself to the boundaries of history. The book is a much needed oasis to those who seek to venture into the past glory of this country without getting bored in the process and Rashantha has taken it upon herself to weave new threads of thought through the age-old fabric of the tale of ‘Sigiriya’.

Taking the book into your hand, you’d even doubt that the mere 150 pages would succeed in achieving the author’s motive, let alone expect it to be a fulfilling read. But as a slight variation to the age old adage would say ‘Don’t judge a book by its size”’. A 150 pages of gripping storytelling and patriotic realisation is what you’ll get instead.

The author

Rashantha de Alwis Seneviratne is a bit of everything. A lawyer by profession, a keen traveller, a sports enthusiast and now an author. But above all, she is a true patriot. “It is undoubtedly important to know where you stand, but it is also imperative to know your roots,” Rashantha mentions. “It is also important not to get lost in the facts while you dig your way through the past,” she adds, saying she wanted her book to be the most distant it could get from being a history textbook, a feat that has been achieved by virtue of her use of undemanding language, emotional storyline and enigmatic characterisation.

“I’ve had a deep love affair with the heritage of Sri Lanka, and our roots,” she says, “But Sigiriya held that special place in my heart. I felt a strong connection with it, which drove the need to flip through the pages of its past and learn more about it..” However, what Rashantha encountered was a lack of the entire truth, as the recorded history had its bias spread far and wide. This led her to explore the facets of Sigiriya and the fact that she was researching a novel gave her the added privilege of spicing up the story with characters brewed from her imagination, while taking great care to ensure that the truth is not maligned amid the adornment.

‘Gods of the Realm’ is the saga of two brothers vying for the throne. “The primary objective of the book quite obviously is to provide a fulfilling experience for the reader, but at the same time I wanted to get the story and most importantly the ‘message’ of Sigiriya to the readers, especially the younger generation,” Rashantha says.

The protagonist of the story is ‘Abhaya’ -a fictional character fashioned on the premise that it was usual for a king to have many sons, owing to concubines who were nothing out of the ordinary then. Abhaya’s words reflect his character. “I learnt to be arrogant. In my mind, I crushed my enemies smaller than the grains of sand under my feet and was contemptuous of everyone else because I was a soldier and my father was the king! …One had to be arrogant to be daring and without daring there could be no valour. This is what I learnt” – Abhaya comes off as a carefree, brave individual with a youthful but sometimes naive outlook on life. We see a dip in the emotions that surround him, as the story progresses – maturing over the course of battles and tribulations of life.

The narrative then plunges into a web of events that take us through the many battles fought with the foreign invaders, the alliances contracted with Indian Royalty and the intricate webs of palace intrigue which seems to have been the norm. With powerful documentation of emotions that lingered during battle, she paints her art with the hues of undeniable toil and blood split for the sake of protecting the integrity of the motherland. What sets Rashantha’s novel apart from other historic recollections is the amount of emotion that she infuses in it.

“The stories surrounding Sigiriya are steeped in so much wonder and mystery that it conjures various provocative thoughts and ideas on the topic. “Once visited, Sigiriya remains in the imagination forever, simply because it is a creation of sublime beauty, resourcefulness, courage and strength, conveying immediately, a sense of impregnability and timelessness,” she says.

The book is stoic in outlook, with phrases such as; “I was equally dismissive of death. Death is only powerful if we cling on to life. Out here, in the open, we are nothing more than a light that glows for a moment in time.” But primarily, the book succeeds in showing the bond of brotherhood, entwined with shared loyalty, respect and admiration between Kasyapa and Abhaya.

Kasyapa acknowledges Abhaya, for all what he is due but at the same time is smitten by Sri Devi, his eventual bride. Abhaya is unfettered by momentary ignorance on the part of Kasyapa, and takes pride in the fact that the great warrior king is his brother.
“Never forget that the devas protect you as you go to battle. Destiny is a funny thing; sometimes, we think it is our karma that defines where we are, but really, it is in our own hands. There wasn’t a single soldier who disbelieved my brother – such was the faith in him. Silence followed his speech. There was no need for words. When each man took up his station that night, his heart would have been full”.

‘Gods of the Realm’ is an interesting and insightful read. It may even be a stakeholder in a change that will see history being taught with a different attitude in this country – an approach that will allow youngsters to mirror the positives of our forefathers and derive inspiration from the feats that were achieved.

Next, Rashantha mentions her desire to write about our 30 year conflict in a different vein. “It won’t be a classic story, but rather an eye-opener for the currently anaesthetised society. The real deal is not about harking to the mistakes of the past, and retelling stories as they stood in origin. What it’s really about is bringing a different angle to stories that will remind us to take stock of who we are, and what we are capable of as a nation.”

Book facts

Gods of the Realm by Rashantha de Alwis Seneviratne

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