The story starts in forest of Naimisha, which is the setting for the narration of a part of the great epic, The Mahabharata, in this book. This book is the first in a series of around 18 books planned by the author in his bid to retell the Indian legend, and the story is carried forward by its subsequent sequels, The Seeds of War and The Children of Midnight.
The book begins when members of Kulapati Shaunaka’s ashram are startled with the arrival of a weary traveller. He turns out to be Ugrasrava Lomarsana, a Suta Pauranika, a reciter of histories and epics. He is also called Sauti, and is a disciple of Sage Vyasa himself. He brings the sad news of the death of the great Vyasa.
The sages at the ashram greet him with affection and respect, offer some food to eat, and give him time to recover from his long journey. Eventually, they ask him to recite to them the great epic composed by Vyasa. Sauti obliges and begins the story. Just like in the great epic, the beginning of the story is entirely disconnected from the crux of the great epic and its central characters.
The main characters are summed up in a small introduction by Sauti. Then the story branches out. It starts with the story of creation and then goes on to trace the lineages and stories of the various races that have been created – Nagas, Yakshas, Asuras, Devas, and humans.
The story of Parashurama is told in detail in this book. It begins with the stealing of the holy cow, Kamadhenu, from Sage Jamadhagni’s Ashram. It then goes on to narrate how the great Sage Jamadhagni is then killed by the king Arjuna Kartavirya’s sons. Parashurama vows his terrible vengeance, and sets out to wipe the entire generation of Kshatriyas off the face of the earth.
This book also describes the great Sarpa Yaga conducted by Parikshit’s son Janamejaya to avenge his father’s death and destroy all the snakes in the world. As foretold, this Yagna does not really succeed in what it sets out to do. The other story shared in this book is the well-known one of Shakuntala and Dushyanta, the couple that started the Bharata clan.
Through its varied stories that cover a range of different races and times, The Forest Of Stories (Book 1) sets the tone for the vastness and splendour of The Mahabharata.