The possibilities of the occult in fiction

How does one research into occult? In the climax of Cult of Chaos, the first novel of my tantric fantasy series ‘Anantya Tantrist Mystery’, the protagonist Anantya and her teacher, Dhuma, an aghori who lives in a cemetery, embark on a complex tantric ritual to call upon a charnel goddess, Shamshana Kalika, to the human plane.

The ritual called Shava Sadhana requires Anantya to sit on top of a corpse on a full moon night. I first came across this dramatic ritual in The Calcutta Review Volume XXIV written in 1855. In true Victorian Gothic style, the text explained that the sadhak, or the one who meditates, sits on top of a dead body, preferably a corpse of a chandala who has died a violent death, on a full moon’s night, so as to gain command over impure spirits like danavas, betalas, bhutas, pretas and other paranormal goblins.  

Image of the published article in Open 

While researching this scene, I sat on top of a corpse, all night, in suffocating darkness with Anantya. We touched the cold, clammy flesh of the swollen corpse and we felt blood pounding in our veins and hearts. Sitting on that corpse, waiting to connect with powers beyond the human consciousness, made me realise the ultimate truth of all human lives:   That the day shakti (alternatively meaning energy, prana, life, or soul) stops coursing through our bodies, we will cease to exist and maggots will consume the bodies we call our home. This relationship with death and life, expressed in such a dramatic, dreadfully mesmerising way, stays with me even three years after I wrote it.

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The Matsya Curse is out for pre-order. Yay!

It’s called The Matsya Curse. And it’s here.

Am superbly thrilled to share the cover of my latest book with you all. Anantya Tantrist is back. And so is this adventure, which is crazier than the last one.  The cover’s been done by the wonderful, wonderful George Mathen. (Read about how I convinced him to do it here). And well, it’s out, it’s coming and I’m going gaga and have lost the art of writing a bit. On preorder now.

Tantrik detective Anantya Tantrist is back, smart-ass comments, dark mantras and all

In Banaras, Bhairava, a black tantrik, sets out to win control of life through mass murder, aided by an army of pretas. In Delhi, a tribal supernatural melts to death in a five-star hotel on the same night that an ancient demonologist is murdered. All this while, the government and the Central Association of Tantriks choose to look the other way and gods, demi-gods, immortals and rakshasas all join Bhairava’s army. All that stands between the murdering bosses and the hapless masses is unofficial detective Anantya Tantrist, armed with a boneblade, a tote of mandalas and a cocky attitude. Just as she begins to see a pattern between a goddess selling art, a miracle-producing minister, an undead mob attacking a rock concert and her immortal friend throwing a tantrum, Anantya faces her most personal hell: her ex-boyfriend Neel has come back from the dead and is trying to kill her. He’s not the only one, of course. A powerful rakshasi wants her head, a pair of demi-gods wants her blood and the trolls are trying to squash her to pulp. She cannot even sleep off the exhaustion, because each time she drops off, Bhairava invades her mind, trying to consume it. Join Anantya as she faces her most formidable enemy yet in the ultimate battle for her mind and her city.

“A remarkable tale,” says Anand Neelakanthan, author of Asura and Bahubali.  Please to pre-order and read.

Tantric tales: a relaxed Sunday with supernatural

It’s taken me a month to post this. Reason: I promised myself that I’ll finish Anantya’s second adventure before any posts on my blog. So here I am, with a finished book (yay!) and a story for you. Tantric Tales happened on the last Sunday of April. The whole team of The Beehive, a collective of creative people, organised it, taking over over the event, setting up the venue, plannning Anantya’s favourite drink soma-on-the-rocks, deciding and creating the graphics as well as the documentary which needed to be screened. It was really kind of the Beehive girls to go so much out of their way and do all of this! That’s the Beehive team below.

With the bees of BeeHive at the end of the event
With the bees of BeeHive at the end of the event

 

It was one of the funnest events I’ve done, a chilled out Sunday evening at a beautiful venue (if you haven’t checked out Humming Tree, I suggest you go. Now. Nikhil, the introvert-ish sweetheart that he is, always has something fun up his sleeve.) where friends and strangers sat on carpets, high chairs, low chairs with a beer bottle in one hand and a pen in the other. For the quiz was on. Ashwani, the quiz master of the evening kept them all inthralled. I even saw a group of people who left their burgers, ON A SUNDAY, to solve a quiz. This city will never cease to amaze me.

Ashwani, the awesome quiz master
Ashwani, the awesome quiz master

 

Then there was the fiery soma-on-the-rocks which Anantya would’ve gobbled in a second. I avoided it in case I fell into a giggly fit right before my discussion on stage.

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Post the quiz, I came up on stage, chatted with people, talked about researching on tantrism. Frankly, I could’ve done a better job, selling my book, talking about it, etc, but it was a Sunday and I’d just had a high after a successful book launch in Delhi and before that in Bangalore, so I became like the crowd at Humming, relaxed. The evening ended with a circle where a lot of people shared their stories and experiences of the paranormal and supernatural. Amazing, that part.

The event was covered extensively by the kind MetroPlus at The Hindu, Jagran CityPlus and  we all came on Page 3 of the Indulge of New Indian Express. Thrilling for a day, that. Leaving you with a few photographs (taken by the kind Prasad N).

Brain or the sexy body?

Sexuality simmers in ancient tales of India. While I was researching for my current book (a series based on tantrism), I came across the lovely tale from Vetala Panchavimsati, an older version of Vikram-Betala stories.

In a temple in the city of Shobhavati, through the favour of Goddess Gauri, Prince Dhavala marries Madanasundari, the daughter of the king
named Suddapata. Svetapatta, Suddhapata’s son, one day proceeds to his own country along with his sister and her husband. On the way they come across another temple of Goddess Gauri. Dhavala goes into the temple to pay homage to the Goddess. There he happens to see a sword, gets obsessed to offer his head to the goddess and does the same. When he does not return for long, Svetapata enters the temple and gets stunned to see Dhavala dead and his head presented to Goddess Gauri. Through some irresistible urge he also cuts off his head and presents it to the Goddess.
After waiting for a long time for her husband and her brother, Madanasundari goes in to beg something of her. She requests the Goddess to restore her husband and her brother. Hearing this Goddess Gauri asks her to  set their heads on their shoulders. But out of excitement Madanasundari puts the head of her husband on the body of her brother and that of her brother on the body of her husband. Both of them come back to life as such. Madanasundari then realizes her mistake, but what has been done cannot be undone. At this stage Vetala asks Vikram, ‘Who is Madanasundari’s husband, the man with her husband’s head, or the man with her husband’s body?’ The King’s reply is that the person with Dhavala’s head on his shoulders is the husband.


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Girish Karnad got inspired by this tale and created his play Hayavadana. The story has been taken thanks to scholar K Mangaiyarkarasi’s research paper which compares this tale with Girish Karnad’s interpretation of it. It’s fascinating how richly coloured our myths easily exploring even taboo subjects. The story swims with incestuous undertones as well as questions one’s idea of ‘husband’ and ‘wife’. By today’s high prude standards, it’s insulting and could get someone into jail, even because of retelling of it.

Another thing that next ceases to amaze me is how tantrism and its esoteric cults in this country represent the breathable spaces, the perforated gaps in the suffocating, prudish morality of today. Which is perhaps why the cult is considered evil and seen upon with fear.