– A retelling in modern English for those people who’ve always wanted to read the original version of the Ramayaan, but didn’t know Sanskrit.
is essentially about Rama, first son of Dasaratha, king of Ayodhya. It follows the events that lead to his birth, his childhood and relationship with his brothers, moving on to Rama’s early adulthood, upto his marriage with Sita. The story also deals with the sage Vishwamitra, teacher and mentor to Rama, and the real protagonist of the Bala Kanda of the Ramaayan, according to the author.
My Thoughts, Let Me Show You Them
I’m not too fond of this book, but then, that’s purely because of my unmet expectations. I thought this would be something like Ashok Banker’s Ramayana series, but it is decidedly not. This is not a re-telling of the mythology in the way we are used to – along the lines of the Shiva trilogy by Amish, with the figures and incidents from mythology being treated as characters in a novel instead of gods, demigods and rakshasas.
In that sense, Ashok Banker’s books, and perhaps even Amish’s books might be read and understood by people who are not Hindus, but I doubt this series would be interesting to non Hindus who are not already interested in the Ramayaan.
The book is filled with footnotes explaining the events occurring in the narrative proper, which is where the subtitle ‘Game of Life’ comes from – the footnotes are mostly in the nature of discourses on morality and the ‘right way to live one’s life’, which is, after all, what the Ramayaan is said to be all about.
The one who allows anger to affect him reacts, and the one who shields himself from anger responds. The one who reacts suffers alone, and the one who responds can alleviate others’ suffering.
which is the footnote to Valmiki repenting an angry curse he gave to a hunter.
In tone and effect, the book reminded me of the Telugu translations – perhaps re-tellings? – of the epics that my grandmother likes to read to me. They’re full of hyperbole and overblown language, moral lessons and strict ideas of faith and bhakti. Which is not a bad thing, necessarily.
All the hyperbole and high-mindedness did get wearying after a while, and I was back to questioning all the contradictory things I read in the book, just like I did all the ‘religious’ texts my grandmother would read me.
Example – Dasaratha is king of Ayodhya, which is described as a perfect kingdom, filled with perfect subjects, where the concept of locking one’s doors never arises because there is no need for theft. Further on, during the passage describing the celebrations during the birth of Rama, heir to the throne of Ayodhya, it is mentioned that Dasaratha is so happy that he throws the treasury open to his subjects, he orders a halt in the use of weaponry, and he frees all prisoners. (Emphasis mine.)
So. Where did the prisoners come from, if no one in Ayodhya is capable of something so low as breaking the law?
And on and on it goes. Just a casual reading of the book would give you several examples, I didn’t document them all because, frankly, it would be too onerous.
On the plus side, the book is filled with little known stories of the epics – for example, the stories I’d heard all my life of Lava and Kusha, twin sons of Rama, have the boys meeting their father when they innocently ‘spoil’ Rama’s aswamedha yajna. Here though, the twins are taught by Valmiki to sing the Ramayaan, and meet Rama when they visit his court as ‘entertainers’.
Or the one where we find out that Dasaratha had 350 wives other than Kausalya, Keikeyi, and Sumitra. I mean, I always knew Dasaratha was a polygamist, but this seemed a little extreme – until the part where it’s explained that Dasaratha married each time Parasuram passed through his kingdom. Parasuram the kshatriya killer was known to spare kshatriyas – like Dasaratha – who were surrounded by women or those in the midst of preparation for marriage – and Parasuram passed through Ayodhya 350 times!
There are many such little known stories in the book that I really enjoyed.
I also really liked the personal note from the author on the first page. In all my time reviewing books, this is the first time I’ve had a handwritten dedication from the author. It felt good.
I also loved Blogadda’s magnetic bookmark, which was a lovely freebie. One of the few bookmarks that I probably won’t lose easily. Hopefully.
Why You Should Read This
If you’re into spirituality, and mythology, and have always wanted to read the Ramayaan but didn’t know Sanskrit, this is the book for you. Others may find it heavy going.