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Book Review: Sitayana by Amit Majumdar

Indian mythology is replete with stories; there are tales galore that are waiting to be told. Even when you think you have read a book and know it from cover to cover, there may be details that skipped your eye.

Our Indian epics – Mahabharata and Ramayana, with their voluminous takes on everything under the sky are not easy to master. Hence, with the new wave of writers trying to re-explore these centuries-old tales always fascinate me, and intrigue me.

And then there’s the problem of plenty – or should I say, too many? There’s a crowd out there – of writers and their own take on the epics. Some are good, some not worth the salt. To stand out in the clutter is a task that only experts can boast of. Amit Majumdar does just that in this book.

Sitayana stands out because of its simplicity. The story is not unknown, and the author does not intend to tread that path. It is the structure of the narrative and the use of language that sets this novel apart.

Sitayana tells the story of Ramayana from the perspectives of not only Sita but different other characters, from Hanuman to Mandodari, Lakshman and even the tiny squirrels. Although it is a refreshing change to hear the myriad voices in the epic, and how they would’ve viewed the events that occurred, it often came across as cluttered and break in the flow of the narrative.

Sita’s story begins in the Ashok Vatika, where she is imprisoned by Ravana. She is reminiscing her childhood when she lifted the might bow of Lord Shiva. The narrative fast moves to her Swayamvara. And suddenly we are introduced to Hanuman and Mandodari’s version of events.

For a book titled “Sitayana”, I was expecting Sita to be the ‘sutradhar’ for the entire story, which was not the case. While I did appreciate the hard work that went behind erecting this narrative from multiple perspectives, I fathom why Sita was denied the significance, she as the titular character deserved.

Apart from that disappointment, Amit Majmudar has not failed to impress the fan of Indian mythology in me. It is a herculean challenge to retell the story of Ramayana from the perspective of so many characters. And he has succeeded in his task. His creativity shows in the fact that the entire novel has the compression of a poem.

The biggest strength of the novel is in its language. Although simple, there are myriad little puns and references which are easy to miss. A careful reading, with care, would make even the mundane sentence appear magical. Therein lies the success of Amit Majmudar.

Sitayana, in the end, strikes a chord, not because it has a non-traditional world-view of a story well known, but because it captures the essence of Ramayana and places that before us without any pretence or rectitude.

My Rating: 3/5 stars

P.S. This review is part of the Flipkart Bloggers’ Affiliate Programme

 

DISCLAIMER: All Images Used In This Post Have Their Respective Copyrights

Book Review: Ramayana versus Mahabharata by Devdutt Pattanaik

Ramayana, known as the Aadi Kavya (the first poem) is the story of how Ram, the prince of Ayodhya abdicates his claim to the throne, and goes on exile, to fulfil the promises made by his father King Dasarath. During the exile, his wife Sita is abducted by Ravana. What follows is the tale of how Ram rescues her with the help of an army of monkeys, only to desert his pregnant wife later to uphold Rajdharma.

Mahabharata, the longest epic ever written, is a story about family feud. Two clans in the Kuru dynasty – Pandavas and Kauravas – fight over their rightful inheritance. The epic battle at Kurukshetra sees the Kaurava clan decimated. But do these tales follow such simplistic storyline? The version of Ramayana and Mahabharata that we read – are they are real stories, itihasa, as it is claimed?

India’s favourite mythologist Devdutt Pattanaik answers these questions, and many more in his new book Ramayana versus Mahabharata. As he himself claims, this book is his ‘playful comparison’ of the two epics. There is a perception that Ramayana is set in the Treta Yug and is an idealistic narrative. The Mahabharata, on the other hand, is a more realistic tale where rules are meant to be broken – to preserve dharma. Devdutt Pattanaik challenges these claims, and presents his version of events. He even claims, it is possible that the two tracks of events may have happened at the same time period.

Although seemingly different, Ramayana and Mahabharata have several similarities – both the stories involve exiled princes, avatars of Vishnu; both presuppose a crisis of kingship; they are both set in similar geographical terrains; both are composed by witnesses;  both begin with childless king and feature ambitious queens; wives are won in archery competitions in both the epics. The similarities are aplenty.

Ramayana and Mahabharata have their dissimilarities too. In Ramayana, Ram, the avatar of Vishnu is unaware of his divinity; Krishna is well aware of his divine powers in Mahabharata. Ram plays the king while Krishna is kingmaker. In Mahabharata, the brothers are sparring – which forms the basis of the epic; in Ramayana, brothers are loyal and devoted. Pattanaik opines, these similarities and dissimilarities are neither accidental nor coincidental. Rather, these are intended to bring Vedic wisdom into the household.

In short, these epics only reveal that dharma is a work in progress. In Hindu mythology, non-enlightened beings are hungry, frieghtened and restless. Enlightened beings are neither. Dharma cannot be established without empathy, and these epics reveal how both Ram and Krishna struggle in this enterprise.

‘Ramayana and Mahabharata’ is a brisk read. True to his style, Devdutt Pattanaik communicates deep philosophical thoughts with ease, in a ‘playful’ narrative. The short snippets about the epics, little anecdotal references strewn over the places, little pearls of wisdom always make it enthralling to read his books. No matter how many times you read these books, you’d still be left with this question in the end:

Within infinite myths, lies an eternal truth

Who sees it all?

Varuna has thousand eyes,

Indra, a hundred.

You and I, only two.

 

My Rating: 4/5 stars

P.S. This review is part of the Flipkart Bloggers’ Affiliate Programme

 

DISCLAIMER: All Images Used In This Post Have Their Respective Copyrights

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