For centuries, Indians have held Rama to be the perfect man: unfailingly noble, utterly poised, fearless and strong, wise, compassionate and free from anger, a just ruler and an implacable foe of all wrongdoers. Countless others worship Rama as an avatar, a human incarnation of Lord Vishnu born to vanquish the force of evil and establish a kingdom of perfect justice and harmony upon the earth.
The Ramayana, one of India's greatest epics, lovingly unfolds the story of Rama's life. Ever since its original composition in Sanskrit by Valmiki- possibly over 3,000 years ago- it has grown to be an all pervasive and hugely loved part of Indian life and ethos. Millions read it, re-red it, and revere it as a scripture. It is the perennially favourite bedtime story for children. And each autumn, Rama's victory over the mighty demon king Ravana is celebrated through plays and dance-dramas in cities, towns and villages across the land. There is much festivity: crackers are exploded, sweets distributed and all houses are lite up in tribute to Rama.
R.K. Narayan' s Ramayana is inspired by a Tamil version of the epic written by an 11th century poet, Kamban. It offers the readers a compact yet unhurried retelling of this great epic, and succeeds marvelously in evoking its literary lustre which has shone undimmed through the centuries.
About the Author
R.K. Narayan was born in Madras in South India and educated in Mysore which has also been his home for over half-a-century now. Narayan is one of India's most distinguished writers at work today. Through his several novels and short stories, he has created the enchanting fictional world and , more recently, millions of Indian television viewers who saw TV adaptations of several of his Malgudi stories.
Narayan's books are regularly published in USA, UK and India and have also been widely translated into several European and Indian languages. His novel The Guide (1958) won the Sahitya Academy Award, India's highest literary honour. In 1980, Narayan was awarded the A.C. Benson Medal by the Royal Society of Literature and in 1982 he was made an Honorary Member of the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters. In 1986, he was nominated for a 6 yrs. Term to Rajya Sabha, the Upper House of Indian Parliament in recognition of his outstanding literary stature, Apart form Gods, Demons, and others R.K. Narayan has also retold the great Indian epics the Mahabharata and the Ramayana which are also available in Vision Books.
The Indian Epic The Ramayana, dates back to 15oo B.C. according to certain early scholars. Recent studies have brought it down to about the fourth century B.C. But all dates, in this regard, can only be speculative, and the later one does not diminish in any manner the intrinsic value of the great epic. It was composed by Valmiki in the classical language of India—Sanskrit. He composed the whole work, running to twenty-four thousand stanzas, in a state of pure inspiration.* It may sound hyperbolic, but 1 am prepared to state that almost every individual among the five hundred millions living in India is away of the story of the Ramayana in some measure or other. Everyone of whatever age, outlook, education, or station in life knows the essential part of the epic and adores the main figures in it—Rama and Sita. Every child is told the story at bedtime. Some study it as a part of religious experience, going over a certain number of stanzas each day, reading and rereading the book several times in a lifetime. The Ramayana pervades our cultural life in one form or another at all times, it may be as a scholarly discourse at a public hall, a traditional story-teller’s narrative in an open space, or a play or dance-drama on stage. Whatever the medium, the audience is always an eager one. Everyone knows the story but loves to listen to it again. One accepts this work at different levels; as a mere tale with impressive character studies; as a masterpiece of literary composition; or even as a scripture. As one’s understanding develops, one discerns subtler meanings; the symbolism becomes more defined and relevant to the day-to-day life. The Ramayana in the fullest sense of the term could be called a book of “perennial philosophy.”
The Ramayana has lessons in the presentation of motives, actions and reactions, applicable for all time and for all conditions of life. Not only in areas of military, political, or economic power do we see the Ravanas——the evil antagonists——of today; but also at less conspicuous levels and in varying degrees, even in the humblest social unit or family, we can detect a Rama striving to establish peace and justice in conflict with a Ravana.
The impact of the Ramayana on a poet, however, goes beyond mere personal edification; it inspires him to compose the epic again in his own language, with the stamp of his own personality on it. The Ramayana has thus been the largest source of inspiration for the poets of India throughout the centuries. India is a land of many languages, each predominant in a particular area, and in each one of them a version of the Ramayana is available, original and brilliant, and appealing to millions of readers who know the language. Thus we have centuries-old Ramayana in Hindi, Bengali, Assamese, Oriya, Tamil, Kannada, Kashmiri, Telugu, Malayalam, to mention a few.
The following pages are based on a Tamil version of the epic written by a poet called Kamban of the eleventh century A.D. Tamil s a Dravidian language of great antiquity, with its own literature and cultural values, spoken by over forty millions who live in south India.
Kamban is said to have spent every night in studying the original in Sanskrit by Valmiki, analytically, with the help of scholars, and even7 day in writing several thousand lines of his own poetry. Of his basic in assimilating Valmiki in the original, and reinterpreting him in Tamil verse, Kamban says, “I am verily like the cat sitting on the edge of an ocean of milk, hoping to lap it all up.”
Etched on palm leaves Kamban’s work running to ten thousand five hundred stanzas must have mounted into an enormous pile as my own copy in a modern edition is in six parts each of a thousand pages.
I have taken for my narration several contiguous sections of Kamban’s work. Mine is by no means a translation not a scholarly study but may be called a resultant literary product out of the impact of Kamban on my mind as a writer. As a fiction writer I have enjoyed reading Kamban felt the stimulation of his poetry and the felicity of his language admired the profundity of his thought outlook characterization and sense of drama above all the love and reverence he invokes in the reader for his main figure Rama who is presented to us as a youth disciple brother lover, ascetic and warrior and in every role we watch him with awe and wonder. I have tried to convey in the following pages the delight I have experienced in Kamban.
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