Thursday, January 27, 2011

Review: Ramayana by Valmiki

Reviewed by Ingrid

Published: My edition, "retold" by William Buck, was published in 1976

It's about:
... Remember this?

Yep, this is that. The Ramayana is an Indian epic tale with a rich oral tradition that goes back thousands of years. There are many different versions of Rama's story, but the very basic plot is this: King Dasaratha's favorite son, Rama, is exiled to the forest by his stepmother. Rama's wife Sita is kidnapped by the demon king Ravana and kept captive on the island of Lanka. Rama, along with his half brother Lakshmana, the monkey Hanuman, and an army of animals fight to bring Sita back.

William Buck said of his work, "My method in writing [the Ramayana] was to begin with a literal translation from which to extract the story, and then to tell that story in an interesting way that would preserve the spirit and flavor of the original." Buck worked with multiple versions of the original text and fused them. The result is a fast moving and compelling narrative specifically aimed to Western audiences.

I thought: I found Buck's retelling to be very accessible and interesting. The story was very unfamiliar and had a very exotic feel to me, which I liked. This story is very different than traditional epics from the Western literary tradition. Characters are fantastical and exaggerated. The idea of dharma is the "wheel" around which the story turns, a concept rather foreign to Western readers (or me, at least ....) and thus intriguing.

Verdict: On the shelf.

Rama and Sita (via)
Reading Recommendations: If you are interested in Indian culture, this is required reading. If you want to read a hugely influential literary work that you might not be familiar with, this is a great one.

Warnings: Watch out, on page 361 there is a HUGE drawing of a snail. If you are deathly afraid of snails like me, you might want to skip that page.

Favorite excerpts:
Past stumps and trunks Lakshmana led them on into that hair-raising wilderness, and Dandaka grew deeper and denser and filled with noisy chiming crickets, and vultures sat on bare branches. Then at noon they say the eighty-four thousand little Valakhilya saints of the wood. They were people smaller than a thumbnail, floating in the air, drinking in sunbeams, looking like motes of dust in the Sun. They spoke to Rama and said, "Oh child, we are meek and unassuming. Here it is dreadful and lonely. It is a sadness to live here. Rakshasas prowl for flesh by night. They overshadow the darkness as though they would crush the mountains down. We must endure demons and submit to them. We have seen mountains of bones from the victims they have slaughtered, white bones, Rama, white bones . . . .