A minor cottage industry has emerged around SS Rajamouli’s Baahubali films. The huge success of the 2015 fantasy epic and the anticipated blockbuster reception of the sequel, which will be released on April 28, have resulted in video games, merchandise, and a trilogy of novels that elaborates on the past lives of key characters. In The Rise of Sivagami, Anand Neelakantan creates back stories for two of the movies’ most loved characters, the slave warrior Kattappa (played by Sathyaraj), and the queen Sivagami (Ramya Krishna). In the novel, both start out as detractors of the Mahishmathi kingdom, whose interests they fiercely protect in the movies. Here are edited excerpts from the first chapter in the first book of the trilogy.
The night was dark, like death. It suited her. She did not want anyone to see them. A tiny lamp hung from the chariot, swaying wildly with each lurch that the cart made. She would have preferred to have it snuffed out, but the path was perilous. From either side, the jungle was reclaiming what originally belonged to it. Overhanging branches grazed her face as they sped through the winding hill path. She felt heavy with emotion. A thousand memories rushed from the dark recesses of her mind. They had broken free from where she had carefully buried them over the last twelve years and were howling in her ears. Like ghosts let free. She had never wanted to return to the place they were going to now. Not after what had happened to her family. Every tree that loomed in front of them reminded her of that gruesome scene she had been forced to witness at the tender age of five.
The path of vengeance
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She would not have made this trip had not she met old Lachmi, who had been her maid, after twelve years. The faithful servant was on her deathbed when she visited her. Among other things, Lachmi had mentioned a book that her father owned. A book that her father had told the maid to hand over to his child. A manuscript written in some strange tongue, which could perhaps solve the mystery of what killed her father.
Her father, Devaraya, was a bhoomipathi, a noble lord in the kingdom of Mahishmathi. He was loved and respected until he was subjected to chitravadha — no, she did not want to think about that. Not now, not when she was crossing a bridge that swayed and creaked with each step.
‘Watch out,’ Raghava cried from behind. A yawning gap of seven feet lay in front of her. She handed the lamp to Raghava and took a few steps back.
‘You are crazy,’ she heard him say as she ran and gracefully leaped over the gap. She landed safely on the other side, though the bridge swayed wildly. She looked back and laughed, ‘Throw the lamp to me and jump, you coward.’
They got down from the bridge and walked to a huge wall that loomed in front of them. They stepped in front of an iron-spiked wooden gate that had a massive lock on it. It was sealed with lac.
‘The maharaja’s seal. We are not supposed to open this,’ Raghava said, weighing the lock in his hand.
She took a stone and started breaking the lock open.
‘What are you doing? Nanna will be held responsible. The fort is under his protection,’ Raghava cried. She ignored him and continued hammering at the lock.
Soon Raghava joined her and the lock gave way. They put their shoulders to the doors and, with a loud groan, it swung open.
Memories of murder
She picked up the lamp from the floor and stepped in. A wave of emotions ran through her and she pressed her lips together. Everything was strange, yet familiar.
The servant huts on either side had collapsed. The roof of the temple in which her father used to pray had toppled over. The wall around the courtyard well had crumbled. The mango tree where she used to have her swing had grown big and spread over the roof of her mansion. The two granite tigers that stood on either side of the steps to her veranda were still there. A broken toy horse lay half-buried in the courtyard. Memories, sweet and bitter. Old Lachmi, running behind her, begging her to drink her milk. The pony her father had gifted her on her fifth birthday. The day they had taken him away in chains.
She stopped at the front door of her home. No, it was not her home anymore. She did not have a home. She was an orphan. She bit her lips. This time, Raghava did not wait for her. He broke the lock of the mansion and they stepped in. As the lamp illuminated the dusty interior, she sucked in her breath. For a moment, she wished she was still that five-year-old girl. Her father would come out of his chamber any moment with that smile that made him look so handsome. He would pick her up and swirl her in the air. Shower her with kisses. She longed for his smell, his touch, his affectionate way of ruffling her hair. For the past twelve years, every moment of her life, she missed him. Uncle Thimma, Raghava’s father, who had adopted her, was kind and affectionate, but no one could take her father’s place.
The book with the secrets
Shutting her mind to the surging emotions, she stepped into her father’s chambers.
But for the cobwebs and dust, everything looked the same. On the day when they had come for him, she was playing in the courtyard with the children of the servants. Only old Lachmi was there in his chambers, serving him his food, when they came. She still remembered her father being dragged away in chains through the streets. She had run behind the fast-vanishing chariot, crying her heart out before Lachmi had swooped her into her arms and run back to the mansion. But they were barred from entering by the maharaja’s guards and her home had been sealed before her eyes. The servants were thrown out of their huts and the fort gate was shut. They had sat there until Uncle Thimma had come to take her to his home.
Old Lachmi had told her that her father was reading the strange book when they came for him. He had hurriedly handed it over to her and pointed out an opening in the floor where he had asked her to hide it. He wanted her to hand it to his daughter when she was old enough. A moment later, the soldiers had burst in.
She wished Lachmi were alive and with her to guide her to the place where the maid had hidden the book. It was only after sometime that she was able to locate the secret opening on the floor and, with the help of Raghava, she broke it open. Inside was a manuscript.
‘Paisachi,’ Raghava exclaimed. ‘That is the language of the first men of this country.’
‘You know how to read it?’ she asked.
Raghava was a scholar who spent most of his time reading. He shook his head, ‘Not many are alive who could read this dead language. I wonder why your father chose to write in this strange tongue.’
‘He did not write it. He got the book from someone,’ she said, recollecting what Lachmi had said to her.
Mahishmathi, beware Sivagami
She stood up, clutching the manuscript close to her heart. She looked around the chamber longingly. The image of her father stooped over his books flashed for a moment in her mind. She shook her head and, holding back her tears, walked out.
She paused at the dilapidated temple. She closed her eyes in prayer. A wave of anger swept through her. They had destroyed her family. They had killed her father. She had seen him die, inch by inch. Chitravadha, they called it. The poetic name did not mask the cruelty of the punishment. She still remembered how they had locked him in an iron cage and hung it from a banyan tree in front of the arena. They had hung a wooden board from the cage, and it read, TRAITOR.
Devaraya, once a powerful bhoomipathi, later declared traitor, died the most painful death possible. She had heard it took about three weeks for him to die, eaten alive by sparrows and crows while jeering crowds from Mahishmathi picnicked under the tree and watched him die.
How she hated the king and the evil kingdom of Mahishmathi. Clutching the manuscript close to her heart, she whispered, ‘Amma Gauri, I swear, I will destroy this evil kingdom of Mahishmathi.’
Excerpted with permission from The Rise of Sivagami: Book 1 of Baahubali – Before the Beginning, Anand Neelakantan, Westland.