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Tuesday, December 10, 2019

Light and Life

On Diwali, readings of the Ramayana show us the light, and warn us against darkness. Listen, first, to Sita in Dandakaranya, counselling Rama.

Updated: October 29, 2019 3:58:57 pm
valmiki ramayana, Dandakaranya, rama and sita, rama and sita mythology Her story: Jatayu Vadham by Raja Ravi Varma. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

In the forest, a voice: On Diwali, Ramayana show us the light, warn us against darkness

ayodhya diwali, ayodhya sita, valmiki ramayana, Dandakaranya, rama and sita, rama and sita mythology An image from Hum Sab Ayodhya (SAHMAT, 1993) depicting the washerman episode

Darbha in Bastar is the site of the deadliest-ever Maoist attack on a political party, which killed 27 people, including Chhattisgarh Congress president NK Patel and Mahendra Karma in May 2013. In the Valmiki Ramayana, the first sight that catches Rama’s eye as he enters the aranya (wilderness) of Dandaka with Sita and Lakshmana during his exile is a marvellous landscape covered with darbha, considered the most sacred grass in Vedic literature. The ‘Aranya Kanda’ begins with a vivid description of darbha and Dandakaranya, the seat of revered sages.

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Ravana was a spectacular king. He just fell for the wrong girl

sri lanka, ayodhya, sundayEYE, EYE 2019, ravana, ramayana, sri lankan civil aviation, Sri Lankan Ozymandias, Yudhanjaya Wijeratne, Yudhanjaya Wijeratne science fiction, nebula award Yudhanjaya Wijeratne, 1920 painting of Ravana from south India. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

A few months ago, I was picking my way through an obscure 1870s translation of the great Ramayana, notebook in one hand and my cat attempting to destroy the other. I was on a selfish quest: a friend and I had started writing a story featuring giant robots based on Indian and Sri Lankan gods, and I wanted material for my fictional behemoths.

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Did a strong sense of morality make Vibhishana the first ‘anti-national’?

Vibhishan, anti national, nationalism, Sunday Eye, Eye 2019, Indian Express, Indian Express news A Pahari painting from the Lanka Kanda of the epic depicting Vibhishana who bows before and delivers a message to Rama and his brother Lakshmana (left). Ravana’s younger brother later joined forces with Rama. (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

In the large canvas of the Ramayana, Vibhishana is a minor character. However, the rebellion of Ravana’s younger brother is a pivotal moment in the epic. For the first time, the authority of the lord of Lanka, who rose from a plebeian background to build the rakshasa empire, is challenged from within his ranks, and that too by his kin. More importantly, Vibhishana changes the terms of reference of the Rama-Ravana conflict, when he confronts Ravana on the grounds of dharma.

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Mythology will not remember Kaikeyi kindly. But what if she was just playing her part?

Kaikeyi, Kaikeyi mythology, Kaikey rama, lord rama mythology Colour me dark: Reproduction of an oleograph by Raja Ravi Varma, depicting Dasharatha giving payasa to his three wives. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

So you stand before me, Rama, seeking my blessings as though nothing ever happened. What a cold-hearted scam artist you are! You know this will only add to your deification. Everyone expects me to beg forgiveness of you. The world and your mother, too. They accuse me of having killed your father and having sent you and your wife to the wilderness, infested with demons and untold horrors. But tell me Rama, did I really do wrong by you?

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Why we need to remember the civilised Rama, and not the angry one

Moola Ramayana, EYE 2019, Sunday EYE, indianexpress, Ramayana, versions of ramayana, Rama Rajya, Gandhiji, siamese twins, Detail from a Thai mural depicting Rama in battle. (Photo: Getty Images/Thinkstock)

The Valmiki Ramayana, being a Sanskrit text, remained in the hands of those who knew Sanskrit, mostly the Brahmin clergy, for 2,000 years or more. Meanwhile, it kept growing, like epics often do. Probably, for this reason, when one reads it today, one can almost decipher two texts embedded in one, each contradicting the other at times.

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Long ago, by the Sarayu

Ayodhya, Ramayana, SundayEYE, EYE 2019, buddhism, jainism, Jaunpuri style, Sanskrit Ayodhya, Babri Masjid, The site of Ayodhya, at least till the end of the 6th or early 5th century BC, was considered too forested for human habitation. (Photo: Vishal Srivastava)

Gautama Buddha’s Phena Sutta (The Foam) is said to have been composed in Ayodhya. On a certain occasion, when he was staying here, he thus addressed the brethren:

Like to a ball of foam this body is:
Like to a bubble blown these feelings are:
Like to a mirage unsubstantial
Perception: pithless as a plantain trunk
The activities: a phantom, consciousness.

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What happened when the dauntless Hanuman met the fish-tailed daughter of Lanka’s king?

Hanuman sets fire to Lanka. (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

There is a limestone isthmus between two tiny islands – Rameshwaram and Mannar – that once connected the Indian peninsula and Sri Lanka by foot and, for half a century, even by rail. No bridge, made by nature, by people or their machines, has been able to remain standing, holding these two points together. Cyclones, such as the 1964 one, which turned Dhanushkodi in Tamil Nadu’s far south into a ghost town, and another one, dated to 1480, have overwhelmed every attempt with a watery erasure.

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Diwali is a celebration centred around wealth and status

Diwali, Diwali 2019, feudal culture, Eye 2019, Sunday Eye, Indian Express, Indian Express news Diwali is also a time for family, new clothes and auspicious beginnings. (Source: Getty/Thinkstock)

The last time I had fun on Diwali was over 20 years ago. The year after, an overly pious teacher made us take a pledge not to burst crackers — the reason then was child labour, not so much the climate apocalypse — and that was that. We never had a puja at home, I don’t like gambling or playing fancy dress as a grown-up. Without noise, fire, destruction and light, it was just another day to feel left out.

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