Misogyny is a word thrown about quite casually these days, as are feminism and women empowerment, but “Vaishali Ki Nagarvadhu” by A.C Shastri, is a story of a woman who despite being a victim of patriarchy, becomes an icon in the socio-political landscape described in the book.
“Amrapali“, whose divine beauty is only comparable with the goddesses, was forced to be a “Nagarvadhu“, a euphemism for sex worker. When the author of this book finished its text after years of research, he expressed his wish for it to be recognised as the only work he had ever done in his life. Acharya Chatursen Shastri, who is considered to be one of the greatest Hindi authors, would not be a figure of reverence if the so-called “Saviors of Religion” read his work today.
The book not only intends to pragmatize issues like caste, misogyny, food taboos and even politics of a different time, but also tries to understand the roots of various social issues that linger on even today. Few pages into the book and it reveals to us the nature of the two protagonists, whose story we are going to follow for the rest of the book.
One is the enlightened one himself, the Buddha and another is a beauty so unfathomable that even the divine would be jealous. The book in its initial chapters tries to draw a direct comparison between spiritual enlightenment and carnal desires, each being the primary forte of our protagonists.
However, later the book shifts towards the social and political aspects of the people in that society, for instance, interesting chronicles of a traveling “Kshatriya” killing a wild boar and eating it during his journey, or “Brahmins” reserving the best part of the flesh after a ‘Yajna’. The book also aims to show the effect of caste dynamics overshadowing competence resulting in protests, violence, or even acceptance of a more caste neutral way of life. It doesn’t portray kings as perfect but instead explores the imperfections and flaws in a king such as promiscuity or decisions resulting from lust and greed. There is a dialogue where the caste of children from “inter-caste” marriages, as well as who would be allowed to or banned from making inter-caste alliances, is being discussed by “Brahmins”, and tribals are being demonized. This is nothing but a bunch of “Brahmins”, scared of Buddhism, as it preaches casteism, which is threatening their monopoly on religion.
This book aims to dismantle the casteist, patriarchal and religious dogmas we have been following or are being forced to follow by our peers. The book ends with a strong message, subtly conveyed. Insightful in various accounts and a text worth reading, so give it a go by all means, but beware of being labeled “Anti-Nationalist” or an Urban Naxal.