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A.N.D. Haksar

By Arshia Sattar
Year 2016, pp. 218, Rs. 499.00

VOLUME XL NUMBER 11 November 2016

The Rama story has been around for a long time. It has been a part of people’s life and thought for generations in this country. An inspiration for both saints and savants over the ages, its longstanding and continued appeal for common folk too has been no less clear to many observers of this land. Its spread has also been documented by eminent scholars in modern times. About three decades ago, this was done in fascinating detail, with India as the background, by A.K. Ramanujan in his acclaimed dissertation Three Hundred Ramayanas. His contemporary, V. Raghavan, traced the story’s travel to and absorption in the cultures of other lands in his equally reputed book The Ramayana in Greater India. These learned works are probably deserving of greater general interest today. But simpler and direct retellings of the tale are also needed for contemporary audiences busy with the present tempo of life and without time or access to earlier accounts in original languages. The urge and need for retelling the story was no less recurrent in the centuries which followed the great poetic account of Valmiki, generally regarded as the first. Witness Kalidasa’s Raghuvamsam in Sanskrit, Kampan’s Iramavataram in Tamil and Tulsidasa’s Ramacaritmanas in eastern Hindi, to name just a few. In present times the modern media have also catered to this continued public interest. The story’s film, TV and comic versions have enjoyed sustained popularity. That they are part of a continuing earlier tradition is also clear from some not so new versions. The half-century old popular retelling in English by Shudha Mazumdar in memory of Mahatma Gandhi is a good example, as is its contemporary book, a comic pictorial presentation of the tale from a neighbour country in its own language, Bahasa Indonesia. The book reviewed here comes in the same tradition. Its author is a well known Sanskrit scholar and commentator who had earlier translated the original Ramayana of Valmiki as a Penguin Classic, and also tales from the famous Kathasaritsagara. Here she presents for children the tale of Rama by Valmiki, which she has described as ‘my favourite’. A powerful and well-loved story, in her words, ‘it shows us how difficult it is to do the right thing when there are many choices before us. Most importantly, it is here that we see Rama as a human being, just like ...

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