Today, this blog is being blessed by the very amazing author, Tanaz Bhathena, whose recent 2020 release, Hunted By The Sky, has not just impressed me but has also become a favourite of many, especially the ownvoices readers. If you’ve read my review of this book, I’ve made it clear that the world built in this fantasy has won my heart. So it was only obvious when I hoped for the author to tell us more, through this guest post, about what went into creating this sphere. This blog post may contain affiliate links. To know more about them, please read my disclaimer.
Gul has spent her life running. She has a star-shaped birthmark on her arm, and in the kingdom of Ambar, girls with such birthmarks have been disappearing for years. Gul’s mark is what caused her parents’ murder at the hand of King Lohar’s ruthless soldiers and forced her into hiding to protect her own life. So when a group of rebel women called the Sisters of the Golden Lotus rescue her, take her in, and train her in warrior magic, Gul wants only one thing: revenge.
Cavas lives in the tenements, and he’s just about ready to sign his life over to the king’s army. His father is terminally ill, and Cavas will do anything to save him. But sparks fly when he meets a mysterious girl–Gul–in the capital’s bazaar, and as the chemistry between them undeniably grows, he becomes entangled in a mission of vengeance–and discovers a magic he never expected to find.
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Tanaz Bhathena on painting a fantasy world inspired by medieval India in Hunted by the Sky.
My first introduction to medieval India came from Indian TV shows and movies. Akbar Birbal features prominently in this and so do Mughal-e-Azam, Jodhaa Akbar and Padmaavat. Naturally, the problem with mainstream Indian television and cinema is that there is little historical accuracy in play (e.g. Jodha was Jehangir’s wife, not Akbar’s) and often the narrative can be one-sided. (Alauddin Khilji was portrayed as a barbarian in Padmaavat with little dimension or character development.)
I started looking up primary historical sources such as Ayeen Akbary by Abul Fazal Mobarak and reading historical non-fiction by authors like William Dalrymple, Ruby Lal, Manu Pillai, and Abraham Eraly. I also researched museum archives online, made dozens of secret Pinterest boards about paintings, clothing, jewellery, and weapons that were used during the period.
I built a framework of how I wanted to create my world by focusing on the following topics:
THE ROLE OF WOMEN
15th and 16th century India was a fascinating place, but recorded history is very male-centric and often told by male historians. I found Ruby Lal’s book on Nur Jehan, Empress, enormously useful in deconstructing those perspectives. It confirmed that even during the medieval period, Indian women were complex and powerful figures. In southern India (the only part of the subcontinent never fully under Mughal rule), women were even more powerful. The Attingal Ranis of Kerala were an excellent example of queens who personally led armies into battle. (Read Manu Pillai’s The Ivory Throne for more interesting anecdotes on this.)
It seemed perfectly natural that women in my fantasy kingdom of Ambar would have similar political ambitions and would be eager to take up arms and fight.
CULTURE AND MYTH
As an Indian of Zoroastrian heritage, I knew I wanted to incorporate both Indian and Persian myths into my book. In many ways, this worked out perfectly for me as Persian culture had a deep influence on 15th and 16th century Hindustan. Persian was used as the language of the Mughal courts, and the Mahabharata was translated from Sanskrit into Persian during Emperor Akbar’s rule.
While religion can often be a source of conflict in the subcontinent in real life, it didn’t make sense for the kingdom of Ambar to have the same sort of conflict. In Hunted by the Sky, different religions coexist peacefully. There are people who worship the Sky Goddess (Ambar’s patron goddess) and then there are the Zaalians, who do not believe in the gods, but only the raw power of magic. There is also a saint named Javer, who is worshipped by both magi and non-magi, and he’s reminiscent of figures like the poet Kabir and Sai Baba of Shirdi.
I also created a society that was more open to love and different relationships. During the medieval period, there was plenty of courtly poetry where men expressed their love for men. Homosexuality wasn’t criminalized in the legal system until the British colonized India. (And it has thankfully been decriminalized by the Supreme Court of India as of 2018.)
Hunted by the Sky uses a popular western magical trope of “the chosen one.” I personally love the trope, but I also wanted to add more Indian flair to it—and I did this by focusing on Hindu and Zoroastrian mythology. Reading the Mahabharata and the Shahnameh helped me create my own myths and magical creatures. I also put my own spin on a popular Indian magical trope—“the avatar,” where gods take on human forms and come to earth.
Overall, writing a medieval Indian fantasy was both challenging and fun. I thoroughly enjoyed playing in this history-inspired dream world and I’m hoping I can do more with it in the future.
She writes books for young adults. Her latest book, Hunted by the Sky, is the first of a YA fantasy duology set in a world inspired by medieval India, with the sequel Rising like a Storm releasing on June 22, 2021. Her novel, The Beauty of the Moment, won the Nautilus Gold Award for Young Adult Fiction and has also been nominated for the Ontario Library Association’s White Pine Award. Her acclaimed debut, A Girl Like That, was named a Best Book of the Year by numerous outlets including The Globe and Mail, Seventeen, and The Times of India. Her short stories have appeared in various publications including The Hindu, Blackbird, Witness, and Room.
Born in India and raised in Saudi Arabia and Canada, Tanaz lives in Mississauga, Ontario, with her family.
N O T E
Everything stated in this post is independent of any compensation, and the guest writer’s comments and thoughts are solely their opinion; the links have been added by the blogger but no changes were made in text.
5 replies on “Guest Post: Writing A Medieval India-Inspired Fantasy World [Tanaz Bhathena]”
Thank you for sharing this, I find it very insightful! I’ve only watch Jodhaa Akbar and I really enjoyed the movie, but I admit I didn’t know how accurate it was. I find it especially fascinating on what you wrote on the role on women and the culture of the era.
Again, thank you for writing this!
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I love this so much! And, this is super helpful for me as a writer! For both of us hehe 👀
This is such an enlightening post! One of my favourite things about this book was the worldbuilding and references to Indian mythology – but hearing about the author’s research and her infusion of Persian culture makes a lot of things click for me!
omg fanna! i loved reading this post! my WIP is also inspired by medieval india, and, it’s funny, because just yesterday, i spent hours on facetime talking to my grandfather trying to understand india’s history 😂 hunted by the sky sounds like such a wonderful novel, and i can’t wait to check it out – especially after your interview! lovely post 💕