Monday, October 17, 2011

Memorable Books: Ramayana

Aparna, who blogs at Musings shares her thoughts on one of her memorable books! I'm thrilled that she graciously made time to participate in this feature. Aparna is my friend, cousin, and aunt, all rolled into one :). Since we've bonded as both friends and family, it is suffice to say we share a huge subset of common interests and personality traits. Hence, her word is as good as mine! She loves reading as well, and recently, she has been taking an active interest in Mythology. Her writings have started to inspire me to learn more about our rich heritage!  
Ramayana is a mythological story which has been close to my heart since I was a little child. Along with my grandparents, I used to sit eagerly waiting for the Sunday morning telecast of the Ramayana on Doordarshan (the only Indian television channel around the 1980’s). My grandfather used to start watching sitting on the sofa which was a little away from the television, and then as the story unfolded, he would slowly get off the sofa, and move closer and closer to the Television, until he was right under it. Though the language in which the series was telecast was something that he could not easily comprehend (it was telecast in Hindi, and we speak Tamil), that did not deter him, and at the end of the hour's telecast, he would be in tears. Every Sunday!

I have read Ramayana written by various authors. The ones that I remember are C.Rajagopalachari's version of Ramayana, and of course the Ramayana re-told for children in the Amar Chitra Katha series. However, I have never read a Ramayana quite like what Ashok K. Banker has written. It's a series of seven books with the seventh one just released. I am on the third book now and every time I pick it up, I read with bated breath to know what is in store.

The books in the series are – 1) Prince of Ayodhya, 2) Siege of Mithila, 3) Demons of Chitrakut, 4) Armies of Hanuman, 5) Bridge of Rama, 6) King of Ayodhya, and 7) Vengeance of Ravana

Ashok Banker has written the book more for today's generation. Imagine Rama working his way through the demons and Ravana similar to the way Harry Potter would try his magic on Voldemort and his other enemies. It is a sure shot candidate for a movie series :). It is not a pure English novel per se, and is interweaved with words from Sanskrit and Hindi, and tries to reach the common man thus.

Every event that has happened through the epic is described in detail, and at the same time, the author is able to maintain a fast paced recital (Well, at least the first 3 books do seem pretty fast paced, but the Husband begs to differ here, saying it does get slower as one goes on to the fourth or fifth book :)). As I read about the fight between the demoness Tataka and the Rama - Lakshmana duo, I was at the edge of my seat, waiting to know the fate of Lakshmana and the demoness.

Every character in the book has been created with a great amount of imagination and patience, all the while keeping in mind the basic personalities of each of them from the original Ramayana. For e.g., the character of Kaikeyi's help - Manthara - has been so created that the character exudes bitterness from all angles. The famous hunchback, with her secret chamber where she performs yagnas and the conversations she has with Ravana, are so realistic, that you end up detesting this lady from the bottom of your heart! Each form of demon is given a name like pisacas, rksas etc and they are described in detail as to how they differ from each other. The encounters between the various strong characters of the epic are depicted beautifully. Geographically, the places that the characters travel through, and the rivers and mountains they traverse are very clearly explained, and we can almost link it to today's structure of India.

I am absolutely enjoying this series since this is one Ramayana to which I am able to relate to better. The characters seem more lively and clearer. Each of the events, like the killing of the demon Tataka, Rama breaking Shiva's Bow to win over Sita, Rama defeating Parashurama, etc., left a lasting impression on my mind.  Although sometimes there is a feeling that the purity/sanctity of the original Ramayana is lost in the process, Ashok Banker's Ramayana captures the reader's interest in its own way.

Thanks for the lovely review, Aparna! The story of Ramayana evokes a lot of childhood memories of me intently hanging onto every word of my learned grandfather's discourses. Every single night, my grandfather used to regale me with a certain branch of the story, the hidden symbolism, the not-so-well-known interpretations, and stories-within-stories of other epics. And to this day, Ramayana has remained a favorite classic. It contains rich morals that children (and adults) benefit from. It is wonderful that contemporary authors have started humanizing these epics and the characters so that they are more personable and interesting to the younger generation.

If you would like to contribute to this feature (details here), please leave me a comment stating your interest. Thanks!


Karthik said...

Aparna- Nice to read your thoughts on this book :-) I have been waiting for accessible books on mythology that convey the essence of the original, so I will add this book to my list :-) And its nice that it incorporates some Sanskrit words to get a feel for the original!

Anne said...

Interesting. I have never actually read the detailed versions of the Indian epics... this post sure makes me want to soon!

Aparna said...

Karthik - Thanks. It will surely make for an interesting read.
Anne - :) I hadn't too, until I chanced upon this one. And I can't seem to put the book down.. :)