Devangana is a small novella in Hindi by Acharya Chatursen. I had earlier read his Vaishali ki Nagarvadhu before I visited Vaishali in Bihar. I loved it. So, reading other books by Acharya Chatursen was on my wish list since then. However, all his books are big and demand a lot of time. So, this time in my local library when I saw this thin book, I picked it up immediately.
Devangana, as the name indicates is the story of a Ganika or a dancer who is dedicated to a temple. The smaller chapters were inviting.
It is a small play like novella set in the 12th CE in what is now known as Bihar.
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It is an interesting story that tells you the malpractices in Buddhist monasteries that led to the complete eradication of Buddhism from India. The protagonist of the story is the only son of a rich businessman who is lured into becoming a monk so that the monastery can get hold of his father’s wealth in the absence of a legitimate heir.
The young monk finds out the truth of the monastery, tries to argue only to get punished. A faithful old servant helps him out of the situation. The Fast-paced story moves from Vikramshila in Bihar to Kashi where the young monk meets the young Ganika. What follows is a love story in the times of deceit and war of dharma.
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Eventually, everything falls in place and there is a happy ending.
Devangana is not as well written as the other book I had read. Many details are missing. I also feel many things are exaggerated to make the point. I wonder if monks had their own prisons where those who did not follow the orders could be sent for punishment. You wonder if a queen and a princess of a neighboring kingdom could hide their identity so easily.
However, it does bring out the scenes inside a Buddhist monastery alive. You can imagine the large monasteries full of monks with their heads shaven. Given the size, you do wonder where do they get funding from and then you realize fundraising is not a new phenomenon.
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You wonder what were they trying to do by recruiting every young man and later even women into their order. A big organization eventually means corruption and hence the trouble. You learn about the nexus between priests and acharyas.
The two women though dependent in their current state come out as the strongest characters in the story as does the servant who thinks of Seth’s son as his own.
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Overall, the story does give you an insight into why Buddhism reached a point where it has to fall sharply in the land of its own birth.
As a story, it is like a potboiler. It moves fast, there are twists and turns, there is romance, there is action, there is drama and finally a happy ending. There are so many visual elements that you almost feel like you are watching a film instead of reading a book.
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If you like a historical thriller and you have less than 2 hours to read a book – pick it up.