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Friday, December 21, 2012

Ashok Banker's Ramayana

My first introduction to the Ramayana was through Amar Chitra Katha. I presume it was ACK that brought the epic to life for most children in the 80s. Additionally, in my case, we lived in faraway North India so opportunities for hearing the story from any of my grandparents were few and far between. around  Around the time I was 10-11 years old, I picked up Rajaji's rendition of the epic and was utterly charmed by his flowery prose and narrative style. Through my school years, I read his version too many times to remember while being rather more captivated by the complex plots and infinitely more interesting characters of  the Mahabharata.
Inevitably, as I grew older and especially after watching the cloying Ramanand Sagar series on TV, I began to find the story mildly irritating and even boring, populated by bloodless characters with no life and personality, and the image of the Ideal Man and Woman patronizing and unrealistic. While I knew other versions existed, until recently I didn't have the interest to dig them up and read them. Until someone recommended Ashok Banker's Ramayana.
I ordered the first book through my library and once I started reading, it was impossible to put down!! I fretted and fumed as I realised that the second book was not available from the library. Fortunately, a friend had just finished reading the whole series and he lent me his collection. Since then, I have been furiously reading the books at every opportunity (have just started on Book 4) - in the metro, snatched moments at home and a full hour battling sleep after the kids are in bed.
What a story it is! For the first time, I am reading the Ramayana not just as the story of an avatar of Vishnu dwelling in the mortal world in order to eradicate evil; but as a rollicking adventure, a vastly entertaining tale of good vs evil, a dashing hero, a brave independent-minded heroine, a chilling villain, all meshed together in a book that's as good as the best in its genre.
I'm wondering why I never read it when it first came out a few years ago...I had so much more time! Rama and Sita are a flesh-and-blood couple with real fears, doubts, emotions and yes, a lot of love too. Banker has taken liberties with the plot. For example, Manthara is actually a minion in Ravana's service and Rama's exile is part of a larger strategy by the Asura king to gain power over the Aryan kingdoms. The first time Ravana encounters Rama is actually at Sita's swayamvara where Ravana is also a suitor; in fact he lifts and strings the bow of Siva first! Rama uses the Brahm-astra against Ravana's invading Asura hordes at Mithila and destroys most of the Asura army, leaving Ravana imprisoned within a block of stone for 13 years....Such interesting and fresh twists to an otherwise old and well-known story make the books unputdownable!
In addition, what I really liked was that Sita is not some kind of wilting wallflower. She is a warrior princess who stands shoulder to shoulder with her husband and brother-in-law, fighting the Rakshshas during their long torturous years in exile. Banker is good with action sequences in particular and manages to make the scenes come alive on paper.
I won't add any more spoilers here for people who haven't read the series. Í'm sure I'll have one more post in store once I am done with Books 5 through 7. Looking forward to yet more hours of reading pleasure!


  1. going to love this book..but 7 series you say?? hmm..ok, let me get to the first one at least :-)

    1. Yesh get the first one uma and hopefully u'll get hooked and have no trouble breezing through the others! :)

  2. Wow thanks for the recommendation. You've given just enough inputs to interest the reader into picking up the book. Am adding it to my reading list !!

    1. Thanks back, aarthy! Hope u get to read it and judge for yourself.

  3. Quite interesting how different tellings of the Ramayana reflect society at that point. Banker's version sounds totally reflective of contemporary middle class ethos. Curious to read now.


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