In the forest, a voice: On Diwali, Ramayana show us the light, warn us against darkness
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.
Ravana was a spectacular king. He just fell for the wrong girl
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.
Did a strong sense of morality make Vibhishana the first ‘anti-national’?
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.
Mythology will not remember Kaikeyi kindly. But what if she was just playing her part?
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?
Why we need to remember the civilised Rama, and not the angry one
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.
Long ago, by the Sarayu
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.
What happened when the dauntless Hanuman met the fish-tailed daughter of Lanka’s king?
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.
Diwali is a celebration centred around wealth and status
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.