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'The Mahabharata probably happened for a very good reason'

Last updated on: September 25, 2012 12:45 IST

'The Mahabharata probably happened for a very good reason'

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Indian fiction author Ashwin Sanghi's recently released book The Krishna Key has shot to No 1 on the AC Nielsen all-India fiction rankings within the first week of its release.

In an online chat with readers on September 24, the bestselling author shared his inspiration for work, the experience of writing the book and more.

For those who missed the live chat, here's the unedited transcript:


Ashwin Sanghi says,Hi everyone. I'm Ashwin Sanghi. You may post your questions and I will try my best to answer them...:)
author asked, hi ashwin...i am a great fan of your books. i have read the chanakya's chant...can you tell me what is the story of your next book?

Ashwin Sanghi answers, at 2012-09-24 16:00:01Thanks for the kind compliment. I am delighted that you have enjoyed reading my novels. I have decided to take a break from the ancient. My next novel is set in post-independence India (1948). It does have a historical context but virtually no mythology. I explored religious, theological and mythological issues through The Rozabal Line and The Krishna Key. I explored politics and statecraft through Chanakya's Chant. I wish to explore the world of business and economics through my next novel.
vishal asked, hello ashwin. I love myhtological fiction. What books do you read before writing a book? Recommend some books for me also ...prefereably in english language. thank you. when is your next book releasing?

Ashwin Sanghi answers, Hi Vishal. The sort of reading that I do prior to writing a novel depends on the subject that I plan to write about. The research was at several levels for The Krishna Key. First, I wanted to examine historical material that could tell us that Krishna existed, not merely as a mythological character, but as a historical one. Second, I wanted to examine the events of the Mahabharata in order to interpret them in a contemporary frame of reference. Finally, I needed to study archaeological evidence in relation to Dwarka. I ended up reading over fifty books—including the Mahabharata, Harivamsha, Kalki Purana—besides more than a hundred research papers and spent several weeks on travel. Similarly, with The Rozabal Line, I found that there was a wealth of information that I could dip into. Some of this information was available in excellent books that had covered various issues such as the Jesus in India hypothesis, the historical Jesus, and the interplay of mythologies and religious beliefs in the evolution of the character of Jesus. Books such as Jesus Lived in India by Holger Kersten, Jesus in Kashmir: The Lost Tomb by Suzanne Olsson, The Fifth Gospel by Fida Hassnain, The Unknown Life of Jesus by Nicolas Notovich and The Lost Years of Jesus by Elizabeth Clare Prophet were very important in building the framework of the story. With Chanakya's Chant, the research was at two levels because, as you know, there are two parallel stories in this book. The first one traces the rise of Chanakya 2300 years ago and ends with him having succeeded in installing Chandragupta Maurya to the throne. The second traces the life of Gangasagar Mishra a Brahmin teacher from Uttar Pradesh who makes it his life's purpose to make a girl from a slum into the country's prime minister. The ancient story required historical reading, including the Arthashastra as well as several other books penned on Chanakya. I also read an English translation of the Mudrarakshasa—a historical play in Sanskrit by Vishakhadatta who lived in the 4th century. The modern-day story simply involved lots of newspaper reading. The drama of politics is enacted before us each day in the front pages... one doesn't need to stray any further! If you've read my novels and liked them you might wish to consider reading some of the source books upon which the stories are based. My next book releases around December 2013. :)
hellmind asked, According to you who was most responsible for mahabharata war..

Ashwin Sanghi answers, I am not a theologian nor a scholar and this question is best answered by one of those. However, I do believe that the Mahabharata is a tale that was written for a specific purpose... that Dharma is above all and that we often do not realise the consequences of our actions. Draupadi mocking Duryodhana, the Pandavas rejecting Karna, Bhishmapitamaya rejecting the throne, Yudhistira not controlling his gambling , any of these events could be viewed as the genesis but that would be a mistaken approach. The war was meant to happen and it did. Probably for a very good reason.
Rahul asked, hi sir, i loved ur 2 books. is it true u read some 200 books to write the krishna key?

Ashwin Sanghi answers, No. I read around 50+ books but in addition I also ended up reading around 100+ academic papers, articles and journals. The quantity of research is rather unimportant though... I love the process of research.... it gives me a chance to become intimately familiar with my subject.
NaiveReader asked, Hello Ashwin, I recently read Chanakya'a chant and found it very interesting, I really enjoy reading any books on Indian history. I also enjoy reading sci-fi, are you planning to write anything in sci-fi?

Ashwin Sanghi answers, There are many portions of The Krishna Key that relate to science. Though not sci-fi, these portions illustrate the fact that Indian science could have been way more advanced 5000 years ago than we imagine. My next book is about business, a fictional tale that allows me to explore the world of business, trade,commerce, finance and economics.
Rahul asked, According to online word of mouth, heard that the krishna key rakes some new theories like atlantis is dwarka, nuclear weapons in mahabharata etc.. Do you really believe the olden civilizations to be so advanced & somehow we say "evolution" to be a misnomer

Ashwin Sanghi answers, Thanks Rahul. What if I tell you that Rajasthan was once a lush green pastureland and that the ancient River Saraswati flowed through it? What if I tell you that off the coast of Gujarat lies an underwater city that bears many characteristics of Krishna's capital, Dwarka? What if I tell you that skeletal remains from archaeological excavations tell us that nuclear war could have been possible during the Mahabharata age? My effort with The Krishna Key was to tie these disparate threads together while revealing hidden gems of information that could possibly change the usual perception that we have about the ancient. The mistake that we seem to make is to view mankind's progress down the millennia as linear. No, it is more like a series of crests and troughs. It is possible to encounter civilizations that were far more advanced than us if we go back five thousand years. Yes, in your words, evolution is indeed a misnomer.

NACHIKETAS asked, Hello Ashwin, this theory of Jesus living his early life in India is only a conjecture but you have presented it as history. I have not come across any credible scholar supporting this theory.

Ashwin Sanghi answers, Hi Nachiketas. All my books are presented as FICTION, never as FACT. Because I use factual information as part of my story, I attribute these sources at the back of each book. But NEVER do I ever claim that what I have written is history.
NaiveReader asked, My second question is about politics in India. Do you really see anything positive in the current Indian political situation. Don't you think there is lot of chaos and corruption? What do you foresee in the next 10 years of Indian political scene?

Ashwin Sanghi answers, One would have to be a soothsayer to predict what will happen in the next 10 years but it does seem that the pulls and pressures of federalism and democracy are wreaking havoc on basic governance. The worst part of this situation is that even if one were to have a general election, there would be no clear winner, in my opinion. I think that it will take us many more years to understand that coalition dharma is a necessity that every major government at the centre will face and political parties will have to try and agree on broad directions that should be taken so that governance is not sacrificed at the alter of coalition dharma.
Urfan asked, Hello Ashwinji...authors like you will certainly change the myth of some readers who believe that indian authors cant write good fiction in english.. What you have written about the powers of chant adi shakti....'in chanakya's chant, is it true?

Ashwin Sanghi answers, Thank you for the kind compliment Urfan. I am grateful for your kind words. No, the chant is an actual Shakti chant that is used to awaken the Kundalini but it has no historical relevance to the Chanakya story. That connection is purely fictional.
Rahul asked, now a days theres a trend of indian author's book being made as films. is any such things in the pipeline with chanakya's chant? would love to see it on screen i must add

Ashwin Sanghi answers, The movie rights of Chanakya's Chant were sold by me to UTV more than a year ago Rahul. They are presently converting it into a script. Casting should begin by end of this year.
hellmind asked, your favorite books and movies

Ashwin Sanghi answers, I was brought up on a diet of commercial fiction and thrillers for most of my growing years: Jeffrey Archer, Sidney Sheldon, Robert Ludlum, Frederick Forsyth, Irving Wallace, Jack Higgins, Tom Clancy, Ken Follett, Arthur Hailey. In the past decade, Dan Brown, John Grisham, Stieg Larsson, Ian Rankin and countless others were added to my list. Among Indian authors, I enjoyed Salman Rushdie, Ruskin Bond and R. K. Narayan. Arthur Hailey is my favourite... I picked up the art of weaving fiction around research from his novels.
akv asked, Hi Ashwin, this is Aswin here. Any particular reason to incorporate Jayadeva's Astapathi as background score into your book's pre-launch trailer?

Ashwin Sanghi answers,
The shloka, as you know, refers to the tenth incarnation of Vishnu.... Kalki and is taken from Jayadeva's Geet Govinda which describes all 10 avatars. Given that the story revolves around a murder who delusionally believes that he is the 10th incarnation of Vishna, we felt that it was appropriate to use this particular stanza.
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Image: For representational purposes only
Photographs: Illustration courtesy: Dr Devdutt Pattanaik

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vishal asked, hello ashwin. I love myhtological fiction. What books do you read before writing a book? Recommend some books for me also ...prefereably in english language. thank you. when is your next book releasing?

Ashwin Sanghi answers, Hi Vishal. The sort of reading that I do prior to writing a novel depends on the subject that I plan to write about. The research was at several levels for The Krishna Key. First, I wanted to examine historical material that could tell us that Krishna existed, not merely as a mythological character, but as a historical one. Second, I wanted to examine the events of the Mahabharata in order to interpret them in a contemporary frame of reference. Finally, I needed to study archaeological evidence in relation to Dwarka. I ended up reading over fifty books—including the Mahabharata, Harivamsha, Kalki Purana—besides more than a hundred research papers and spent several weeks on travel. Similarly, with The Rozabal Line, I found that there was a wealth of information that I could dip into. Some of this information was available in excellent books that had covered various issues such as the Jesus in India hypothesis, the historical Jesus, and the interplay of mythologies and religious beliefs in the evolution of the character of Jesus. Books such as Jesus Lived in India by Holger Kersten, Jesus in Kashmir: The Lost Tomb by Suzanne Olsson, The Fifth Gospel by Fida Hassnain, The Unknown Life of Jesus by Nicolas Notovich and The Lost Years of Jesus by Elizabeth Clare Prophet were very important in building the framework of the story. With Chanakya's Chant, the research was at two levels because, as you know, there are two parallel stories in this book. The first one traces the rise of Chanakya 2300 years ago and ends with him having succeeded in installing Chandragupta Maurya to the throne. The second traces the life of Gangasagar Mishra a Brahmin teacher from Uttar Pradesh who makes it his life's purpose to make a girl from a slum into the country's prime minister. The ancient story required historical reading, including the Arthashastra as well as several other books penned on Chanakya. I also read an English translation of the Mudrarakshasa—a historical play in Sanskrit by Vishakhadatta who lived in the 4th century. The modern-day story simply involved lots of newspaper reading. The drama of politics is enacted before us each day in the front pages... one doesn't need to stray any further! If you've read my novels and liked them you might wish to consider reading some of the source books upon which the stories are based. My next book releases around December 2013. :)
hellmind asked, According to you who was most responsible for mahabharata war..

Ashwin Sanghi answers, I am not a theologian nor a scholar and this question is best answered by one of those. However, I do believe that the Mahabharata is a tale that was written for a specific purpose... that Dharma is above all and that we often do not realize the consequences of our actions. Draupadi mocking Duryodhana; the Pandavas rejecting Karna; Bhishmapitamaya rejecting the thro#8800 Yudhistira not controlling his gambling ur#8805 any of these events could be viewed as the genesis but that would be a mistaken approach. The war was meant to happen and it did. Probably for a very good reason.
Rahul asked, hi sir, i loved ur 2 books. is it true u read some 200 books to write the krishna key?

Ashwin Sanghi answers, No. I read around 50+ books but in addition I also ended up reading around 100+ academic papers, articles and journals. The quantity of research is rather unimportant though... I love the process of research.... it gives me a chance to become intimately familiar with my subject.
NaiveReader asked, Hello Ashwin, I recently read Chanakya'a chant and found it very interesting, I really enjoy reading any books on Indian history. I also enjoy reading sci-fi, are you planning to write anything in sci-fi?

Ashwin Sanghi answers, There are many portions of The Krishna Key that relate to science. Though not sci-fi, these portions illustrate the fact that Indian science could have been way more advanced 5000 years ago than we imagine. My next book is about business, a fictional tale that allows me to explore the world of business, trade,commerce, finance and economics.
Rahul asked, According to online word of mouth, heard that the krishna key rakes some new theories like atlantis is dwarka, nuclear weapons in mahabharata etc.. Do you really believe the olden civilizations to be so advanced & somehow we say "evolution" to be a misnomer

Ashwin Sanghi answers, Thanks Rahul. What if I tell you that Rajasthan was once a lush green pastureland and that the ancient River Saraswati flowed through it? What if I tell you that off the coast of Gujarat lies an underwater city that bears many characteristics of Krishna's capital, Dwarka? What if I tell you that skeletal remains from archaeological excavations tell us that nuclear war could have been possible during the Mahabharata age? My effort with The Krishna Key was to tie these disparate threads together while revealing hidden gems of information that could possibly change the usual perception that we have about the ancient. The mistake that we seem to make is to view mankind's progress down the millennia as linear. No, it is more like a series of crests and troughs. It is possible to encounter civilizations that were far more advanced than us if we go back five thousand years. Yes, in your words, evolution is indeed a misnomer.
NACHIKETAS asked, Hello Ashwin, this theory of Jesus living his early life in India is only a conjecture but you have presented it as history. I have not come across any credible scholar supporting this theory.

Ashwin Sanghi answers, Hi Nachiketas. All my books are presented as FICTION, never as FACT. Because I use factual information as part of my story, I attribute these sources at the back of each book. But NEVER do I ever claim that what I have written is history.
NaiveReader asked, My second question is about politics in India. Do you really see anything positive in the current Indian political situation. Don't you think there is lot of chaos and corruption? What do you foresee in the next 10 years of Indian political scene?

Ashwin Sanghi answers, One would have to be a soothsayer to predict what will happen in the next 10 years but it does seem that the pulls and pressures of federalism and democracy are wreaking havoc on basic governance. The worst part of this situation is that even if one were to have a general election, there would be no clear winner, in my opinion. I think that it will take us many more years to understand that coalition dharma is a necessity that every major government at the centre will face and political parties will have to try and agree on broad directions that should be taken so that governance is not sacrificed at the alter of coalition dharma.
Urfan asked, Hello Ashwinji...authors like you will certainly change the myth of some readers who believe that indian authors cant write good fiction in english.. What you have written about the powers of chant adi shakti....'in chanakya's chant, is it true?

Ashwin Sanghi answers, Thank you for the kind compliment Urfan. I am grateful for your kind words. No, the chant is an actual Shakti chant that is used to awaken the Kundalini but it has no historical relevance to the Chanakya story. That connection is purely fictional.
Rahul asked, now a days theres a trend of indian author's book being made as films. is any such things in the pipeline with chanakya's chant? would love to see it on screen i must add

Ashwin Sanghi answers, The movie rights of Chanakya's Chant were sold by me to UTV more than a year ago Rahul. They are presently converting it into a script. Casting should begin by end of this year.
hellmind asked, your favorite books and movies

Ashwin Sanghi answers, I was brought up on a diet of commercial fiction and thrillers for most of my growing years: Jeffrey Archer, Sidney Sheldon, Robert Ludlum, Frederick Forsyth, Irving Wallace, Jack Higgins, Tom Clancy, Ken Follett, Arthur Hailey. In the past decade, Dan Brown, John Grisham, Stieg Larsson, Ian Rankin and countless others were added to my list. Among Indian authors, I enjoyed Salman Rushdie, Ruskin Bond and R. K. Narayan. Arthur Hailey is my favourite... I picked up the art of weaving fiction around research from his novels.
akv asked, Hi Ashwin, any particular reason to incorporate Jayadeva's Astapathi as background score into your book's pre-launch trailer?

Ashwin Sanghi answers, The shloka, as you know, refers to the tenth incarnation of Vishnu.... Kalki and is taken from Jayadeva's Geet Govinda which describes all 10 avatars. Given that the story revolves around a murder who delusionally believes that he is the 10th incarnation of Vishna, we felt that it was appropriate to use this particular stanza.
Rahul asked, One silly request, in the rozable line i had a hell time to go back & forth the book to read the end notes... Perhaps foonnotes in the same pages will be a bit ergonomical (he he)

Ashwin Sanghi answers, I agree with you. I have wanted to rewrite The Rozabal Line for the longest ever time but have never got down to doing it. I wrote the book when I knew absolutely nothing about writing and I do believe that a rewrite would help make the story and references much clearer. Alas, I am swamped with work and writing and hence this becomes a low-priority.
akv asked, you are attributed as the Indian Dan Brown...out of curiosity arises this question - how much research goes into your each book? How much percentage can i assume as fictional and how much is factual?

Ashwin Sanghi answers, In The Krishna Key, you could assume a 50:50 split. Chanakya's Chant is mostly based upon the Mudrarakshasa but that may be partly fictional too. The Rozabal Line is also a 50:50 split.
Aarshin asked, Have been an ardent fan of yours. Love the way you keep in touch on Twitter as well.Reading the Krishna Key currently, you have never disappointed me.

Ashwin Sanghi answers, Thank you for your very kind comments. I try hard to keep writing stories that will keep my readers engaged but I do realize the impossibility of keeping everyone happy simultaneously. Thank you for your appreciation.... it makes the entire laborious process of researching and writing entirely worthwhile! :)
akv asked, i really admire the way you are getting the modern day youth to connect to our ancient culture. No one wants to directly listen to bhagavatha or any other discourse, whereas people love to connect them this way...Any particular inspiration for it to have all your books this way?

Ashwin Sanghi answers, Thank you for your very kind compliment. My reason for doing so is because I believe that the future is a function of the present and that the present is a function of the past. That basic philosophy comes through in all my stories. I believe that many current events can be explained by history and, hopefully, a better understanding of the past can prevent repetition of those very mistakes in the future.
Akila asked, Hi Ashwin, Akila here.. Just finished reading The Krishna Key last night and today I get to chat with you... I was zapped by just thinking the amount of time you must have spent on research. what inspired you to write the Krishna Key

Ashwin Sanghi answers, Hi Akila. Thanks for the kind words. I have always been fascinated by the Mahabharata period. What excites me is not the mythology but the possibility that the epic may be based on historical truths. The Krishna Key is my quest to provide an entertaining read while attempting to nudge Krishna and the Mahabharata from the mythology section of the library into the history section.
vnj asked, have you any idea in writing a book based on Hindu mythology that will usefull for young people who will step into married life

Ashwin Sanghi answers, Never thought about it :) I have realised that the formula for a happy marriage is that there is no formula! I am still learning though :)
Rahul asked, Do you plan to visit bangalore sometime. would love to meet u & get my prized books signed by you

Ashwin Sanghi answers, Hi Rahul. I shall be in Bangalore on October 12th and 13th. My exact schedule is yet to be finalized but I am likely to have an event at Landmark Orion as well as at the Bangalore Club. Details will be posted on my FB page at http://www.facebook.com/shawnhaigins. Please keep a lookout for details there. Will be happy to sign your books! :)
hellmind asked, when the hindi version is coming ...my wife doesn't know too much english

Ashwin Sanghi answers, The Hindi version of Chanakya's Chant translated by Naved Akbar and published by Yatra Books is already available in the market. The translation of The Krishna Key is underway and should be available in a few months.
harshal asked, Which is your favourite book?

Ashwin Sanghi answers, All the King's Men by Robert Penn Warren. It was the one that got me interested in politics and inspired me to write Chanakya's Chant. Second: The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam as translated by Edward FitzGerald, because it taught me about wine, women, song and God! Third: Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov, because it makes you realize that you can empathize even with a degenerate if his character is presented in all dimensions. Fourth: India After Gandhi: The History Of The World's Largest Democracy by Ramachandra Guha, because it is a wonderfully balanced chronicle of the triumphs and defeats of post-independence India. And fifth: Gitanjali by Rabindranath Tagore, one of the only books of poetry that can bring tears to your eyes.
sandeep asked, Hi Ashwin Sir, First of all would like to congratulate you on your three jewels. Have read all the three and thoroughly enjoyed them. Which is the next book you are working on.

Ashwin Sanghi answers, Thank you for your very kind words Sandeep. I'm delighted that you enjoyed the three books. Actually, I had started working on a manuscript before commencing work on The Krishna Key. It was a story that revolved around an incident that happened in 1948—immediately after Indian independence. It was a business story, something that I have wanted to do for the longest time ever. But destiny had other plans in store for me. At a friend's house, someone mentioned to me the fact that the prophesised appearance of the tenth avatar of Vishnu—Kalki—was very similar to the apocalyptic prophecies of the Book of Revelation in the Bible. That got my brain into overdrive. I spent a week reading the Kalki Purana and there was no looking back! I had to put the business story on the backburner. I now plan to finish that story over the next one year.
Akila asked, Writing a mythological thriller... werent you skeptical about the reaction from readers

Ashwin Sanghi answers, Yes, I was. But I've realised that whenever you try to challenge yourself, you will always have to cope with the obstacle of getting readers to change their reading habits. It's like trying a new type of cuisine... unless one tries it one can't tell if one likes or dislikes it. The response, though, has been overwhelming, and I can breathe freely now given that my core readership has appreciated the work.
subbu asked, Hi Ashwin, One major point, I have read that Buddha as 9th avatar is a thing which is not accepted by everyone. It is said that, Brahmins during the introduction of Buddhism, didnt want Hinduism to lose favour, hence called Buddha the 10th avatar, however, the earlier texts say, Balarama the 8th avatar and Krishna the 9th avatar! Your thoughts on it?
Ashwin Sanghi answers, You are absolutely right Subbu. As regards your question, there is no clearly accepted view regarding the 8th, 9th and 10th avatars. Some scholars do not count Krishna as an avatar/incarnation at all. Some count his elder brother Balarama also as an avatar. Some count Buddha while others leave him out. It is not a question that I delved into beyond basic research but it does make for an interesting area of further scrutiny.
Akila asked, Undoubtedly, you have many people like me to believe and be proud of the books you write which in turn helps us realise our rich heritage. We all shall await your next book.....

Ashwin Sanghi answers, Thank you Akila. It is because of the affection and support that I receive from readers like you that I remain motivated to keep writing. Many thanks for your kind compliments. I shall endeavour not to disappoint. :)
KIRAN asked, Sir I want to congratulate on gifting book like Krishna Key, I was thrilled to read such good book which took me to almost thousands of year back while holding in thriller plot. Now I am alos looking forward to read your another two books and eagerly looking forward to more such novels, which educate history in new aspect while providing thrill to read.

Ashwin Sanghi answers, Thank you Kiran. I'm delighted that you enjoyed reading The Krishna Key. Besides the objective of entertaining the reader, my allied objectives are to possibly educate or enlighten along the way. If some of that happens, I see my objective as fulfilled. :)
subbu asked, Thanks for your reply Ashwin :) One more thing is, do you think the timings that you have written matches with the one of Immortals of Meluha? :) (you both are the authors that i look forward to)

Ashwin Sanghi answers, Amish is also one of my favourite authors. Immortals places Shiva in the Indus Valley whereas The Krishna Key places Krishna during the time when the Sarasvati River was drying up. The westward developments along the Indus basin were spurred by the disappearance of the Sarasvati and hence I guess there is a time difference between the two.
Ashwin Sanghi says, Thank you to all participants for an engaging session. I enjoyed interacting with you. The Q&A session is now closed.




Image: Lord Krishna advising Arjun during the War of Kurukshetra
Photographs: Rediff Archives

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