Saturday, April 20, 2013

Reading Diary Week 2: Narayan's Ramayana, Part A

READING DIARY: WEEK 2 - A

When I finished the reading, I wrote down the names of the characters I remembered most. Then, I went back through and looked at the passages I had highlighted while I was reading to write up these descriptions of the characters I remembered the most:

1. Dasharatha. The way it starts with Dasaratha not having children sounds like a fairy tale, and the way he gets his sons with the help of the gods and the special rice is like fairytale magic. I really liked his sense of foreboding that disaster was coming when he announced his plan to make Rama king; he clearly did not suspect that he would be the cause of the disaster, and that it would all go back to that hunting accident. He certainly did not mean to kill that boy, but accident or not, that event changed the future forever!

2. Rama. Of course I had to choose Rama. I like the idea that when Vishvamitra comes to ask for help in defeating demons, he doesn't want or need an army. Just Rama is enough! He doesn't want to kill Thataka, but Vishvamitra commands it, and Rama obeys. He destroys Thataka, but he also liberates Ahalya with his supernatural power to undo the old curse Gautama put on his wife. And, of course, he falls completely in love with Sita, not even knowing who she is.

3. Sita. The idea that she and Rama are both divine consorts but strangers to one another in this lifetime is so cool! The description of her lovesickness at the sight of Rama is fabulous, and the "test" of the bow gives it all a fairytale quality again. It is so dramatic that she goes to meet her husband after Rama snaps the bow, not even knowing if it is the man she is in love with or not.

4. Vishvamitra. He is certainly not very likable (none of these sages seem very likable!), but he says my favorite line of what we read: "Even after the participants have vanished, every inch of earth still retains the impress of all that has gone before. We attain a full understanding only when we are aware of the divine and other associations of every piece of ground we tread on. Otherwise it would be like the passage of a blind man through illuminated halls and gardens. That is the reason why I have explained to you the story of every place we have passed through." Wow.

5. Thataka. I am fascinated by this character who started out as an asura princess and became a monstrous demon. She was beautiful once and had a family, but because her husband and sons were kind of crazy, the sage Agastya killed her husband and cursed Thataka and their sons, turning them into demons... and any land where she lives is cursed too, intense! But still, I felt kind of bad for her when Rama killed her.

6. Bhagiratha. He comes across as an incredibly pious and obedient character; he reminds me a lot of Rama. I was really impressed by the way he was able to use austerities (eating nothing but dried leaves that fell from the trees, then living on just the air and the light of the sun, and finally nothing at all!) in order to persuade the gods to do what he wanted, bringing Ganga to earth to save the souls of his ancestors.

7. Ahalya. The story of Ahalya was so sad! It says she realized - but only when they were already in bed - that this was not really her husband but "she could do nothing about it." Intense! It makes me wonder what more she thought at that time, and what thoughts she had during all those years she was imprisoned in the stone! The description of her transformation into the stone is so dramatic!

8. Kaikeyi. Kaikeyi's personal weakness stands in contrast to all the other characters; she is the only character who seems really fickle and frivolous, someone who can be easily manipulated to act in a way that is cruel and against her own best interests. It is not that she is cruel (it's pretty clear that she is not!), but she is so weak that she can easily be bent to the cruel designs of Kooni. I am surprised by all the different female characters here in the first section of reading; it was not something I expected.

My favorite image in this reading section was Rama and Lakshmana battling the giant demon sons of Thataka:


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