A Siddhartha-like figure wills himself into the womb of an Untouchable woman. This is the magical telling of the saga of Raja Salhesh.
Mahisautha. A kingdom nestled at the foot of the Himalayas, the land known today as Madhubani. King Somdev’s boon of a son, Jaybhardan, bears the weight of expectations of valour and glory. The prince is prophecy incarnate: destined to be the hero of an epic, with poets singing of his magic, of warring cousins, battles of conquest, and pillage.
But Jaybhardan turns away. He attends to a different calling. He believes in the unity of all beings, willing and able to dedicate his entire existence to an aspiration to enlightenment. He questions quiet assumptions—how are some people high, others low. As the gods look on in awe, he leads a motley band of rejected souls to create a new society, where each life and leaf is cherished. Heralding heaven at every threshold, he becomes Salhesh, the King of the Mountain.
Passed down orally since the eighth century by the Dalit community of Dusadhs, the story of Raja Salhesh inverts every convention of the epic genre. Hindu myths blend with Buddhist, Tantric and Jaina legends in this enchanting tale that finds new form in the translucent prose of Martine Le Coz.
Martine Le Coz is a novelist, poet and artist from Amboise, central France. Her historical novel Céleste won the Prix Renaudot in 2001. Her work with artists of the Mithila region since 2012 has led to three books: Mithila, l’honneur des femmes (Mithila: Women’s Honour, 2013), Les Filles de Krishna prennent la parole (Krishna’s Daughters Speak Up, 2016), and a set of oracle cards (drawings and text) called Sept Saris (Seven Saris, 2018).
Regan Kramer is a bilingual and bicultural translator who divides her time between Paris and New York. Her translations include Olivier Bourdeaut’s Waiting for Bojangles (2019).
In the media
An excerpt from The King of the Mountain was published in Evergreen Review.
‘Kings have come and gone, but Ashoka and Salhesh live on. Martine offers us a Dalit tale to treasure’—Suraj Yengde
‘Here are voices we have chosen not to hear. Listen now, before it is too late’— Arshia Sattar
‘Reminds us that equality and oneness with the larger non-human world are not recent ideas’—Karthika Naïr
‘A Dalit epic that redefines what it means to be truly heroic. A breath of fresh air’—Ranjit Hoskote