14. The Ramayana by Valmiki

Plot :  A young prince Rama, his beautiful wife Sita and his loyal brother Lakshmana agree to 14 years’ exile in the jungle on the eve of Rama’s coronation as King of Asoyada. In the last year of exile, Sita is kidnapped by the king of demons Ravana,  and it is Rama’s destiny to kill Ravana. He is aided by a race of magical monkeys (vanaras), bears and other demons (rakshasas)

ramayana

My thoughts : A truly epic masterpiece, ranking in terms of literature with western classics such as The Lord of the Rings, yet with a very strong moral centre and a host of admirable and godlike individuals. Even the villain Ravana is described in noble and praiseworthy ways, and the reader has to be reminded how evil he is, when it is easy to sympathise with his Fate to love Sita leading him and many of his subjects to their doom.

I read a modern English version written by Ramesh Menon which was extremely approachable despite hundreds of unfamiliar Indian words (a glossary is provided in the back of the book, but the reader soon becomes in tune with the words and accepts their approximate meaning so as not to disrupt the story too much). Menon uses a great many small chapters within the original seven book structure, and it took me a long time to read the almost 700 pages.

Favourite lines/passages : In such a long epic, there are many scenes which stand out. Ravana’s gigantic brother Kumbhakarna who must sleep all but two days per year as his massive appetite would devour the world, and must be woken carefully with great piles of food and drink, and willing women, to satisfy all his hungers at once, was a wonderful villain, and his ravenous attack on the monkey army was chilling to read. The marvellous and wise vanara Hanuman, who flew to the Himalayas not once but twice to carry a mountain of medicinal herbs to the battle at Ravana’s citadel in Lanka (Sri Lanka), and his other magical tricks, was also a favourite.

Diversions/digressions : As Rama and Sita are human incarnations of Vishnu and Lakshmi, it would be appropriate to learn more about the Hindu pantheon. It was also interesting to speculate on the flying machine, the Pushpaka vimana, which Menon describes as a flying disc, bigger on the inside (able to carry the thousands of monkey-like vanaras at one time back to Rama’s coronation), and transparent from the inside.

Personal rating : Enjoyed immensely 8/10.

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