Warning: This novel begins in medias res, meaning it drops you right into the middle of happenings already happening. Sorry, we don't like to toss in those Latin terms so soon, but we wanted to let you know upfront, so you don't find yourself wondering if maybe you'd bought a book that's second in a trilogy or missing the first seven chapters.
Onward to the tale. It's the rainy season. A fallen god named Yama-Dharma uses a prayer machine to send some prayers heavenward. Unfortunately, the tech must be based on some defunct satellite TV because clouds really mess with the signal.
A small ape named Tak joins him—he was once a guy in a previous life. The once man, now ape spots a break in the clouds westward, and Yama points the prayer machine in that direction.
The clouds come together, but Yama has already "hooked [his] fish" (1.25). The storm goes biblical with the lightening and thunder.
Tak asks Yama how he's adjusting to being flesh and blood again, and Yama straight up dismisses his monkey butt. Touchy, touchy.
Climbing the walls, Tak overhears two monks discussing why their in-house patron deity is granting Yama sanctuary. He figures they must be talking about Ratri, goddess of the night, whom he danced with in another life.
Tak climbs the deity's tower to see that it is, in fact, Ratri. He clears his throat, and she walks over to see who has transgressed her tower.
As she walks, Tak notices her new body isn't on par with the godly beauty of her previous form. Hey, she may have put on a few extra pounds, but you're a monkey, guy.
The two talk. Ratri remembers Tak and the dance they shared.
Tak says his new form is just "[a]nother turning of the wheel" (1.63), but Ratri believes they will restore things to normal by going their own path. In other words, they'll use Sam.
They discuss whether or not this Sam fellow was actually the Buddha. Ratri believes he was the "greatest charlatan in the memory of god or man" (1.75), but is quick to point out that he was also the worthiest opponent the Trimurti ever faced.
This reminds Tak that Yama believes he's caught Sam, so the two hurry to see if Yama has truly done so.
They make their way into a room filled with monks and machinery.
On the bed, a man sleeps. He goes by many names, but for the sake of our poor typing fingers, we'll continue to call him Sam.
He awakens with the god of death on one side of his bed, the goddess of night on the other, and a monkey at the foot. Yeah, it sounds like the start to joke, but this is how it goes down.
Sam slowly recalls who he is. He remembers he was the Buddha and that he fought a war against the gods.
Yama reminds him how the war ended. How he lost.
It seems the gods were unable to give him the truth death, though, lest they make him a martyr. They couldn't reincarnate him either, for fear of repeated history. So they sent him to Nirvana instead as… punishment?
Sam's a little upset about having been dragged out of Nirvana (think: paradise) to live again. Rightly so, too.
But Yama and Ratri explain that they still need him to fight the gods. Sam answers, "You've a willing horse, so flog him another mile" (1.132)—even though he's the horse, he seems to enjoy the joke.
Sam starts the process of not being dead. At first, Yama, Ratri, and Tak are worried about their savior-to-be, but then they realize they need to help him readjust to the ways of undeadness.
Tak suggests the proper medicine is walks through nature and the hills, and they agree to start him on this light-exercise/meditative regiment.
In the following weeks, Sam goes on these walks alone. Yama doesn't like it, though, because the man is still weak, and there are dangers in the world. Should he meet an agent of the Trimurti, well, game over, man.
Ratri suggests the country around her temple will be safe for him, but Yama isn't so sure. The resurrection machinery is a bit of a power hog, and sooner or later, someone will take notice of all that juice flowing into one place.
In fact, some say the thunder chariot has passed close by their location, hunting.
Ratri relents to Yama's judgment since he has more power than she does currently, but Yama reminds her that his power is knowledge, which cannot be taken from him even by mortality.
Yama lights a cigarette and decides they must leave within ten days. Ratri suggests her Palace of Kama in Khaipur, a fornicatorium if you will.
Yama thinks the idea of hiding the holiest of holies in a fornicatorium is wonderfully hilarious, but when Ratri gets upset at his laughing, he's forced to apologize (and apologize well).
Meanwhile, Tak is keeping tabs on Sam.
While trailing the Buddha, Tak notices lightening flashing nearby and thunder bellowing. But unlike normal lightening, these bolts don't disappear—bits of them hang around.
The ape goes to investigate and discovers two holy men talking. One is Sam, and the two appear to be gambling; the lightening flashes after every bet.
The other holy man, whose name is Raltariki, keeps upping the ante. Sam, in turn, keeps accepting the bet.
As the bet goes up, the number and ferocity of the lightening creatures also increases. Tak is a bit miffed when Raltariki appears to have grown the head of a water buffalo and extra arms.
This continues until Tak loses consciousness from the fierce blast of their betting.
Upon returning, Tak is informed by Yama that this Raltariki guy was a Rakasha.
What's a Rakasha? Well, a Rakasha is like a demon but not. A demon is a "malefic, supernatural creature, possessed of great powers, life span and the ability to temporarily assume any shape" (1.258)—but a Rakasha is all that and a bag of chips, minus the supernatural part. In other words, they're totally natural.
Yama's done the studying so he should know. These creatures once had a material form, but somewhere in their evolution learned to transcend into energy fields. The gods bound and defeated the Rakasha to prevent them from deviling or possessing mankind or their machines.
During his last war with the gods, it seems Sam set many of them free to aid him. Just a couple of natural demons, what could possibly go wrong?
They do have one material weakness, though: They love to throw down the odds. Sam was gambling with Raltariki to acquire his services.
Tak wonders what Sam put up as collateral, and Yama bets it was his body.
Why? To put his life in jeopardy, thus reminding himself what it means to be alive.
The next morning, a beggar appears at the temple. One of Ratri's priests, named Balarma, brings in the beggar to be fed, clothed, and given a place to stay (hoping to get in good with Ratri in the process).
The beggar's name is Aram. When he notices that some visiting monks are in the temple as well, he asks Balarma when he might speak to them; he's informed that in the evening they gather for discussion.
Time warp to that evening. Aram chats it up with Sam's monks. He wonders why so many of their order have come so far southwest so quickly, but they simply reply that they are a wandering order.
Aram tries to kill a bug, but the monks request he does not under the practice of the doctrine of ahimsa. Aram gives some argument that killing the bug would totally be in order with ahimsa but says he won't kill it anyway.
A monk of Ratri's order suggests Aram is a scholar, but Aram denies this. He does say, though, that if a scholar should be present he'd like to meet this person (all the while reaching to kill that dastardly bug).
Everyone suddenly looks at the door, and Aram turns to see what the hubbub is about. There stands Yama, dressed in his godly nines.
Yama's mama didn't raise no fool, either—he instantly recognizes Aram for Mara, god of illusion.
Mara doesn't believe Yama's fallen powers can match his own, but Yama's not going to let this opportunity to pass him by. The gods are going to throw down.
Mara attempts to use illusion to scare Yama, but Yama doesn't fall for it, and he reminds the god of illusion that he faces the true death with him as an opponent.
He backs Mara into a wall and grabs the god's throat. Mara gets desperate, changing his form into Yama's, but no dice.
Then Mara chooses Kali's form. Yama hesitates for a moment but breaks the god's neck anyway. Winner by permanent knockout.
He curses the god with no rebirth, but also orders the monks to perform all the death rites before leaving.
Well, what's a group to do when they've got a death god on their hands? They'll just alter the truth. No biggie.
First, they'll rewrite Mara's mind as though it were a palimpsest, then they'll have Sam give a grand sermon while Ratri and Yama slightly alter the minds of all those present. Go team.
Sam gives a grand speech about the lies of words and the truth of the Nameless. It's really something that needs to be read as no summary could do it justice, and it's also a super important speech for understanding the novel's themes and symbols, so make sure to give this one a go on your own.
Ultimately, the plan works, and Karma's machines are none the wiser.
The next day, they begin their journey to Khaipur. Yama congratulates Sam on his sermon.
Overhead, Shiva's chariot races across the sky a couple of times, hunting for either Mara or them or both. They manage to hide from it.
On the third day of their journey, they come to the river Deeva and charter a boat to Khaipur. As they travel, Ratri communicates with Sam by way of the night—she says that Yama believes the Golden Cloud has changed him.
Sam says it might have, but he will still rekindle his war with the gods.