As the release date of my debut novel, the thriller ‘The Shrine of Death’ (published by Bloomsbury India in April) draws nearer, here is a look at the origin of its title…
When I began writing my book, I knew I wanted to set it in the world of idol theft. The Hindu was, at that time, doing a lot of coverage of the high-profile bust of Manhattan-based art dealer Subhash Kapoor’s international idol smuggling ring. My story very quickly evolved into a sort of prelude to that bust, a highly fictionalized account of the circumstances that lead to the Idol Wing, a small, specialized wing of the state’s CID – the only one of its kind in India – getting wind of Kapoor’s smuggling activities and his associates in Tamil Nadu.
As the characters fell into place, it developed into a story of greed and betrayal, of treachery and murder, of love and loyalty… And yet, yet something was missing. I was searching for something, a missing piece to complete the puzzle. I found it one breezy Chennai evening, at a talk about Chola temples by historian Pradeep Chakravarthy at Ashvita Bistro. Suddenly, in the middle of that pleasant gathering, I was transported to the ancient world of the Cholas, and of Pallipadais, crumbling old sepulchral shrines built centuries ago to worship great Chola kings and queens who had passed on.
I still remember the little shiver that ran down my spine as I heard him talk about them, these temples built over the graves of kings and queens who lived a thousand years ago. Temples that were then handed over to an ancient sect of ascetics who surrounded themselves with death, and smeared their bodies with the ash of cremation grounds. The grandeur of the Chola empire, the incredible art that was born of that time, and the stories of great patrons such as Queen Sembiyan Mahadevi… All of this was already a part of the story I wanted to tell, and now, I had found the final, missing piece: The Shrine of Death.