Ilika Trivedi
RAMA OF THE AXE: THE SAGA OF PARASHURAMA by By Ranjith Radhakrishnan Westland Books, 2023, 368 pp., INR 499.00
November 2023, volume 47, No 11

Parashurama. Just the name of this avatar of Vishnu is enough to pique our curiosity and attract our attention. Almost everyone who is familiar with Hindu mythology knows that there are said to be ten avatars of Vishnu, of which the tales of Rama and Krishna are known to all throughout India. But there is another avatar of Vishnu whose name is also Rama, one whose tale we may not be as familiar with. Rama of the Axe is a wonderful attempt to capture the intriguing and terrifying story of Parashurama.
Hindu mythology is often seen as a contradictory, complicated compendium of stories that we all have heard parts of, but do not truly know in entirety. This makes them inaccessible to most audiences. Despite the unique characters and layered stories involved in Hindu mythology, the existence of multiple versions and sources of the same myths makes it difficult to involve children in knowing about these extraordinary tales. Rama of the Axe takes this challenge head-on by capturing the beautiful essence of the story of Parashurama.
This novel shows us the coming of age of Parashurama in a coherent way in a beautiful narrative. Fans of fantasy books should be the first to grab a copy, because it has all the ingredients of a truly iconic mystical story. The mystery of ancient prophecies, the beauty of powerful weapons earned through dedicated meditation, the strength of pure family bonds, the satisfaction of finding one’s path through effort and self-realization, the aura of mythical kings and priests, and epic battles between good and evil bring out magical realism at its finest.
The author has taken great care to bring out the beauty of Hinduism and its principles throughout the book, while carefully structuring the foundations of Hindu society in a moralistic tone. During the battle of Tripura, a character in the book discusses how Sanatana Dharma is important in front of a crowd completely opposed to it. For Hindus, this moment can provide valuable direction to understand the reasons for the practices that we consider normal in our day-to-day life. For people of other religions, this moment answers the whys that those of another culture might have when looking at our strange practices from the outside.
Another crucial facet is how the continuation of the caste system by birth is clearly denigrated by the protagonist while the antagonist is explicitly said to be in the wrong for propagating a birth-based caste system. It is important to highlight that Hinduism is open to reform, and equality of birth and opportunity is an essential component of Sanatana Dharma.
The book uses language that can be challenging at times but it is a great way for younger readers to build on their vocabulary, while slowly going on Parashurama’s adventures with him. A word of caution though: the book occasionally handles some adult themes—both of a sexual nature and some portrayals of extremely violent battle scenes. It is a great read for young adult and adult readers interested in Hindu mythology, but it also deals with themes that might not be suitable for extremely young readers.
Ranjith Radhakrishnan is a skilled writer who knows exactly how to capture the interest of the reader. He is excellent in leaving loose threads that leave questions in the mind of the reader, only to tie them up later in a spontaneous way when the reader is least expecting it. The visual appeal of the book is extraordinary with detailed descriptions that build the world around us when we read. It is no surprise that we encounter characters like Shiva, Nandi, and Indra whose mere presence excites the reader, but be prepared to appreciate characters that one might never have heard of before, or just heard their names in passing, but who will be cherished by the reader once they are done with the book. While the former category of characters is portrayed in unique and mysterious ways, the latter is presented with a depth and devotion that truly binds the reader to the story. Akrita is one such character that the reader will unabashedly adore and root for.
This is an unputdownable adventure story from start to finish which leaves one wanting more. Thankfully, there is a second part of the series to look forward to.