Writer Anand Neelakantan has authored his first non-fiction book, "The Asura Way: The Contrarian Path to Success."
Writer Anand Neelakantan has authored his first non-fiction book, "The Asura Way: The Contrarian Path to Success."anandneelakantan.com/website and Jaico Publishing House

Anand Neelakantan On Asuras And Their Ways

Author Anand Neelakantan talks about his latest book, "The Asura Way" and how much we can learn from the bad guys of Indian mythology

You might know him as the acclaimed author of the Bahubali series, but more than that, Anand Neelakantan is a storyteller par excellence. With his engaging narratives speckled with fresh takes on Indian myths and legends, Neelakantan has carved a niche as a trailblazer in the Indian literary landscape. Through his acclaimed works, he offers readers a fresh perspective on age-old tales, reimagining characters and events with a thought-provoking lens that prompts introspection and sparks dialogue.

But steering away from his brand of fiction, he has now authored his first non-fiction book, "The Asura Way: The Contrarian Path to Success." OT caught up with the writer to discuss his new book and how writing takes him places. Here are the excerpts from the interview.


Can you provide an overview of, "The Asura Way: The Contrarian Path to Success" for our readers who may not be familiar with it?


In my latest book, "The Asura Way: The Contrarian Path to Success," I challenge the prevalent perspective on success. Drawing upon mythology, psychology, and personal experiences, this work presents insights into how ancient wisdom, including reinterpreted myths of the Asuras representing traits like ambition, can guide personal and professional fulfilment.

The Asuras are often depicted as the villains in Hindu mythology, but I believe they have much to teach us about success. They are ambitious, driven, and unafraid to challenge the status quo. They are also willing to embrace their emotions, both positive and negative.


What inspired you to write this book?


As I delved deeper into our culture's ancient stories and myths, I found myself drawn to the Asuras. These characters, often portrayed as villains or antagonists, seemed to possess a certain raw energy and unapologetic ambition that fascinated me. I wanted to explore the idea that the very qualities we are taught to avoid could actually be harnessed as powerful tools for self-improvement and achievement.

The author spoke about how he has illustrated his points with examples of revered figures like Lord Krishna in his book
The author spoke about how he has illustrated his points with examples of revered figures like Lord Krishna in his bookShutterstock

Using stories and examples from our Puranas and history, such as Lord Krishna's anger towards Bhishma during the Mahabharata war, to illustrate that even the most revered figures in our culture were not immune to this emotion, I argue that denying our desires is futile, as they are an inherent part of the human experience. I aim to present a contrarian view of success - one that embraces the qualities of the Asuras and challenges us to rethink our assumptions about what it takes to thrive in today's world.


What made you decide to venture into the realm of non-fiction writing?


My fascination with mythology has always been strong, and my earlier works offer fresh interpretations of myths, challenging the traditional concepts of good against evil.

In "The Asura Way," my aim was to delve deeper—gleaning practical insights from these narratives to address contemporary struggles. The Asuras represent attributes such as fervour, aspiration, and longing—typically cast in a negative light yet brimming with immense possibilities. I believe their unconventional trajectory could provide a refreshing perspective for individuals in pursuit of achievement and contentment during the Kali Yuga.

The concept sprang forth during a particularly trying phase in my personal journey, where I began to doubt the conventional routes to satisfaction and achievement. I was once caught in the corporate world's rat race and escaped it using the Asura way. I thought I should share it with the world, and if it helps at least a few to find their passion, I am happy.


The Asuras are often depicted as villains in Indian mythology. How does your book explore the complexities of their characters and narratives?


The Asuras are often depicted as power-hungry, driven by an insatiable thirst for conquest and domination. However, I believe that this portrayal oversimplifies their characters and fails to capture the depth of their motivations and aspirations. In this book, I explore how the Asuras represent qualities such as passion, ambition, and a relentless pursuit of their desires. These traits, which are often vilified in our society, can also be seen as powerful forces that drive individuals to achieve greatness and push the boundaries of what is possible.

A mural depicting the epic Ramayana
A mural depicting the epic RamayanaShutterstock

One of the key figures I examine is Ravana, the mighty king of Lanka and a central character in the Ramayana. Ravana was a brilliant scholar, a skilled warrior, and a devoted worshipper of Lord Shiva. While Ravana's actions were perhaps misguided, they were driven by a deep sense of pride and a refusal to bow down to authority. In many ways, he represents the Asura spirit of defiance and the unwillingness to accept the limitations imposed by others. Ultimately, I aim to encourage readers to embrace the positive aspects of their nature – passion, ambition, and determination – while tempering them with wisdom, ethical behaviour, and a commitment to the greater good.


What kind of research did you undertake while writing this book?


I delved into ancient Indian texts, such as the Vedas, Upanishads, and Puranas, to gain insights into the nature of the Asuras and the philosophical underpinnings of their beliefs and actions. These texts provided me with a wealth of information about the six enemies of the mind—Kama (lust), Krodha (anger), Lobha (greed), Mada (pride), Moha (attachment), and Matsarya (jealousy)—and their role in shaping human behaviour.

Growing up in the village of Tripunithura, in Kerala, had a profound impact on my thinking and shaped my personality in ways I am still discovering. The ancient town is steeped in tradition and culture, and the various temples and temple arts significantly influenced my upbringing. My parents, L. Neelakantan and Chellammal, were devout Hindus who instilled in me a deep respect for our religion and its teachings. They always encouraged me to question everything and to think critically.

Tripunithura Hill Palace in Kerala
Tripunithura Hill Palace in KeralaShutterstock

The temples of Tripunithura were not just places of worship but also centres of art and culture. I spent countless hours observing the intricate carvings, sculptures, and paintings that adorned these sacred spaces. The stories and legends depicted in these artworks sparked my imagination and ignited a passion for storytelling within me. Through these experiences, I learned that Hinduism is not merely a set of beliefs and practices but a way of life. The insights I gained from these various sources informed and shaped the narrative of The Asura Way.


Did your research for this book also involve any travelling? 


My research for "The Asura Way" involved delving into ancient texts and extensive travels across India and Nepal. I believe that the Puranas, the vast collection of Hindu mythological texts, are deeply rooted in specific geographical locations and are replete with oral legends that often predate their written versions.

To capture the essence of these stories, I embarked on a journey to visit various temples and sacred sites associated with the Asuras and other mythological figures. Each temple and village had a unique narrative to share, passed down through generations by word of mouth. I made it a point to interact with local priests, scholars, and storytellers, eager to learn about the oral traditions that had shaped the Puranas. I listened intently to their tales of ancient heroes, divine interventions, and the interplay between gods, demons, and humans. Some of the temples, like the Malanada Temple in Kerala dedicated to Duryodhana or the Sweta Kalabhairava temple in Kathmandu, have fascinating legends associated with them that could shock a conventional believer. The Tantric temples of Eastern India and the non-Brahmanical temples of North Kerala and South Karnataka have their own set of Puranas associated with local deities.

As I travelled from one sacred site to another, I realised that the Puranas are not merely a collection of abstract myths told by devotional poets. On the ground, they are a living tapestry of stories deeply connected to the land and its people. The oral legends I gathered along the way provided me with invaluable insights into ancient India's beliefs, values, and aspirations. Such travel is good for reminding us that our history is not confined to the pages of books but is woven into the very fabric of our land, waiting to be discovered and celebrated.


Are there any specific anecdotes or stories from the writing process of "The Asura Way" that you'd like to share with us?


Not particularly while writing this book, but I remember one of my most unforgettable experiences while authoring my first book, "Asura—Tale of the Vanquished." I was visiting the yearly Duryodhana festival at the Malanada temple. As I observed the villagers celebrate the festival enthusiastically, I pondered why they worshipped Duryodhana, the Mahabharata antihero. Why was there a temple dedicated to him? I asked one of the villagers; he smiled and posed a counter-question. Why had Kali Yuga, the age of darkness and evil, begun after the Pandavas' victory? If good had truly prevailed over evil, shouldn't Satya Yuga, an age of truth and righteousness, have dawned instead? His question caught me off guard, and I struggled to find a response. But now, I began to perceive Mahabharata as a more intricate narrative, and this motivated me to author my Ajaya series, the Duryodhana Mahabharata, in two volumes.

The Mahabharata is a chronicle about the human state. The Pandavas were not flawless heroes. They made many errors, and they frequently used violence to accomplish their aims. The Kauravas, conversely, were not pure villains. They were flawed and misguided, but they were also capable of tremendous love and allegiance. The villager's question helped me see the Mahabharata in a new light and understand the Asura perspective.

The Sweta Kalabhairava temple in Kathmandu, Nepal where the author travelled as part of his research for the book
The Sweta Kalabhairava temple in Kathmandu, Nepal where the author travelled as part of his research for the bookWikimedia Commons

What advice would you give aspiring writers interested in exploring themes from Indian mythology or philosophy in their own work?


1. Immerse Yourself in the Source:

Venture beyond the confines of books and the internet. Travel to the sacred temples and villages of India. Engage with the locals, listen to their stories, and absorb the oral tales and legends that have been passed down through generations. These firsthand accounts offer invaluable insights into our land's ancient wisdom and beliefs.

2. Embrace the Diversity of Perspectives:

Indian mythology is a vast, multifaceted tapestry woven with countless tales and interpretations. Resist the temptation to rely solely on popular narratives. Seek out lesser-known stories, explore regional variations, and engage with scholars who offer diverse perspectives. This will broaden your understanding and enrich your writing.

3. Question the Conventional Wisdom:

Challenge the established norms and interpretations of Indian mythology. Don't be afraid to ask questions, re-examine old beliefs, and offer unique insights. 

4. Find Your Own Voice:

While drawing inspiration from ancient wisdom is important, your writing should ultimately reflect your unique voice and perspective. Embrace your individuality and let your own experiences and interpretations shape your work.


Can you tease any upcoming projects you're currently working on or planning for the future? 


I am excited as I embark on new literary adventures and ventures. The audiobook of my work, "Many Ramayanas, Many Lessons," has been met with an overwhelming response, and I am thrilled to announce that the book version will be released this year. Additionally, I am expanding my list of children's literature, with several new books in the pipeline.

In the realm of television, I am currently engrossed in scripting the grand epic, Srimad Ramayan, for Sony TV. The project is a visually stunning and emotionally resonant adaptation of the beloved tale. I have penned the screenplay for a two-part Mahabharata film to be directed by the acclaimed Rakeysh Om Prakash Mehra. This cinematic endeavour will bring the timeless epic to life on the big screen, capturing its grandeur and complexity. I have major OTT shows in the pipeline. But one ambition remains: make my book for children, "Mahi- The Elephant Who Flew Over The Blue Mountains", into an animated film that would rival the one made by Disney or Pixar.

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