The road to Ayodhya was never smooth for Sita, but come autumn, people across India look forward to celebrating the return of Ram, after 14 years of exile, to Ayodhya. Perhaps, what makes an epic timeless is the way it can be looked at anew with each retelling. This week, we take a look at the many interpretations of Ramayana for children:
A quirky, modern take on Ramayana, veteran animator and the man who was part of films such as Monsters, Inc. (2001); A Bug’s Life (1998); Ratatouille (2007); The Incredibles (2004), Sanjay Patel’s Ramayana: Divine Loophole (2010, Chronicle Books, appropriate for 10 +) is an extraordinary pictorial representation of the beloved epic. The text is sparse but the full-spread illustrations — nearly 100 of them — featuring deities and demons, lush battle scenes with magical weapons, flying monkeys and angry gods are a feast for the senses. Told like an adventure story, the book, one of the most alternate interpretations of the Ramayana for any age group, truth be told, also comes with an elaborate pictorial glossary of characters to help readers remember the vast ensemble cast.
When it comes to the Ramayana, if there’s one contemporary academic/writer who has engaged with it continuously over the years, it’s Arshia Sattar. Her Ramayana for Children (2016, Juggernaut, appropriate for 7+), accompanied by Sonali Zohra’s gorgeous centrefold illustrations, is a simplified form of the Valmiki Ramayana, in which she looks at the timeless mythology through a child’s eye. She exchanges the many feminist or theological interpretations for a simplistic binary of good and evil and philosophical deliberations that explore the vulnerabilities of her her cast of characters or the dilemmas that guide their actions. “Am I god? Or am I a man? How do I act in the world? Do other people see me as god? Am I always right or do I make mistakes, like other humans?” wonders Ram in one scene. While Sattar’s narrative is absorbing, if there’s one lack, it’s her overemphasis on the greatness of Ram, that does diminish the sacrifices of Sita and Lakshman. But, perhaps, that is looking at the book with adult eyes.
Bulbul Sharma’s Ramayana for Children (2003, Penguin, appropriate for 8+) stands out for its laugh-out-loud humour and its lush descriptions. The Delhi-based writer-artist’s narrative is full of details that bring to life stories within stories even as it continues with the overarching theme of the narrative. One of the hallmarks of a good story is how a writer handles common material and makes something unique out of it. Love, war, estrangement and despair; adventures and misadventures — all the ingredients that go into the making of this epic come together in this contemporary version.
A visually stunning narrative reconstructed from a traditional oral narrative, Samhita Arni and Moyna Chitrakar’s Sita’s Ramayana (2012, Tara Books, appropriate for: 12+) looks at the epic from Sita’s perspective. A collateral damage from beginning to end, Sita’s ordeal has not been the focus of many retellings. This masterful retelling makes up for the lack with excellent intellectual and visual nuance.