Friday, January 13, 2017

Shubha Vilas Retells The Ramayana

When I was little, my family owned a set of the Mahabharata and the Ramayana - these are the two main mythologies of the religion that is now called ‘Hinduism’. They were big and thick and bound in some rust red cloth and had plenty of colour pictures. I spent long hours pouring over these pictures as a child, as dust motes danced in the slanting afternoon sun of our living room.

The Ramayana consisted of two volumes and my mother would begin a reading of it at some auspicious point and conclude by another sacred date.

These books were from the Gita Press but it is rather hard to navigate their website and I cannot find a link an English version there.

You can find the Gita Press versions online at a couple of places and download them at several others but I’m not sure how safe that is.

  Hindi Book Valmiki Ramayan Part I by Gita Press by radhakrishan13299 on Scribd

If you want to read it in a very scholarly way you'd perhaps do best to visit here.

The Hindi version of the Gita Press is available in PDF.

Now, in a nutshell, this is the story of a noble prince who unhesitatingly obeyed his father and went into exile in a forest for fourteen years. Along with him went his wife and one of his brothers. And they had a great many exciting adventures. It’s a marvellous tale and, like all holy books, provides many with much solace, not to mention the unfailing enchantment of epic tales.

All I can remember of what it had to teach me is what my father said: How to be a king without a kingdom. 

There has even been a version that appeared on TV in India and was a huge success. But I've resisted watching it as I consider it as much blasphemy as Jackson's retelling of Tolkien's epic. I hope the animated version below won't be too bad.

When my son was small I read him a retelling which was in English and, though it was pretty different from the story I’d been raised in, it had a good style and was engrossing. I can't quite remember who wrote it.

And then we went to Malaysia and I discovered that the Ramayana has versions there and in Indonesia. This must form an interface of translation and religion and literature between our countries.

And, yet, some tales are such that they can be retold an infinite number of times and all tales grow in the telling.

Shubha Villas’ book came into my hands at a time when I was working with a Korean scholar who was researching mythology. It helped me look at how this story has been morphing and adapting itself over time.

It’s an elegant book with lively colours to the cover picture and makes for easy and enchanting reading.

The edition is enriched with wisdom and interpretations, provided as footnotes. I find the small picture of a leaping deer at the foot of some pages very charming.

All in all, it would make a first class gift to anyone, especially anyone planning to travel to India.

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