Ramayana Series

The Ramayana series is an epic retold by Ashok Banker, one of the few Indian authors I have come to admire. Fellow Indians of my generation had their first proper glimpse of Ramayana in the TV series telecasted by Doordarshan in the early 80s/90s, and I like them, thought I knew all that had to be known about it.

When I first heard about the rave reviews on Banker’s retelling, I tended to ignore it as hype, as I had already seen and read a lot about Ramayana, with it being such an integral part of Hindu Indian culture, and wondered why should I read something I already know so much about.

But one night, I just picked up the first part (Prince of Ayodhya), and started reading. Within an hour, I was gripped. I found it wasn’t the typical Ramayana retelling one gets to read, which tends to be overwhelmingly colored in a religious tone. I found it to be more in the fantasy genre, and having read LOTR only a few months back, I found it way more exciting compared to LOTR, with a much larger scope and a much bigger and more interesting collection of magical creatures and powers.

A couple of months, and five more volumes (Siege of Mithila, Demons of Chitrakut, Armies of Hanuman, Bridge of Rama, King of Ayodhya) later, I found myself with a much richer knowledge of Ramayana. The author did use his artistic liberties occasionally, but it didn’t alter the fabric of the story in any way, only made it a much more enjoyable read.

I heartily recommend this epic series to anyone and everyone. And I recommend my fellow Indians who already know so much about Ramayana, to cast apart their apprehensions, and just take this as a highly enjoyable read.

26 thoughts on “Ramayana Series

  1. Took me about 2-3 months to read the whole series.
    There are 2 more parts coming up, Sons of Rama and one more.

    He’s working on Mahabharat right now, which he says should be 12 volumes or more 😀

  2. Its a good idea to recast it as an epic adventure story, as this style is so popular now with both youth and adults. Forget all the moralising and the religious stance that normally goes with it, and get the bare story for a modern fantastical audience. Sounds good.

  3. I read this some time ago. I was talking with a friend from Delhi who said her grandmother read the whole series as well as the Mahabharata to her. I realized hearing these as a child would be so much more magical than reading them as an adult. I reread some of the Mahabrarata pretending I was a child. I rented the Ramayana TV series (I think there were 12 videos of six hours each) and I got through six of them (36 hours) before tiring. I’d like to see the rest. I heard stories that the whole of India came to a stop as people watched the series – even people in small villages crowded around their solitary TVs where they had them.

  4. yeh Peter, sunday mornings, everyone and everythign would come to a stop at – was it 9 am or 10 am – when Ramayan came on.. hardly anyone would be out on the streets, hehe… when it first started, i was living in a small town, practically a village in the Konkan… and we didn’t even have TV or reception over there. but we’d go over to someone’s house every sunday to watch it on their black and white tv, lol.. later that year we moved to my home city of Puné and the first thing we did was go shopping for a colour TV. that was a memory and experience i’ll never forget!

    sigh..thanks for the memories… getting back to topic, i have read kamala subramaniam’s mahabharata which was i think arnd 3000 pages too. other than that i have only read C.Rajagopalchari’s Ramayana and Mahabharata. i am a fan of the mahabharata, because to me it’s more realistic, the characters seem more evolved, no one character is black or white or 100% perfect or imperfect… every single one of them has shades of grey. from krshna to yudhistir to duryodhana, all of them have their good and bad points, something one can relate to. whereas.. to me, the characters of Rama and Seeta are nauseatingly “good” or ideal. yes, indeed there is a LOT to be learnt from that epic, some of the characters, like Hanuman, have been beautifully developed; I also found Ravan’s and Vibheeshan’s characters interesting.. but on reaching the end, I was left with many questions. above all, i felt disturbed by Rama’s treatment of Seeta after he rescued her from Lanka. many people treat Rama and Seeta as the epitome of the ideal couple, and that just bothers me because i feel that he was not exactly the ideal husband. it also perpetuates the notion that a woman must be patient and endure injustices, because Seeta did so. To me, the real hero of the Ramayana is Seeta… yet, no one is building temples for her… all the temples are dedicated to Ram. hmmm.. maybe that is the point the author wanted to make??

    so Sid… does Ashok Banker address these issues? does he develop the characters further? what exactly fascinated u about his writings – u said u found it more exciting/magical… how so? Peter, since you have also read it, can you pls give some insight on this?

  5. I agree with u choc, seeta wasn’t treated very well in the story, but I guess that is that shade of gray and that was the part where ram’s weakness is shown too, when he is humiliated by his sons later. right?

  6. @Choc
    Yeah, like I said earlier, this isn’t your typical Ramayana retelling, painting Rama and Seeta like Gods. It does show them to be above the regular citizenry, but it does explore their human side as well. And Ravana’s character is totally different from any other interpretation I’ve read so far as well.
    King of Ayodhya (last book) stops at the point when the war is won and they get back to Ayodhya. Banker adds a prologue where he explains how he couldn’t identify with the Rama as he appears further in the storyline, how he’s totally different from what he’s been so far in the story. And he finds this a good reason to stop writing the rest of the story. But as we know now, there are two further parts he’s working on, which should be release sometime in the near future.

  7. sid- very interesting! not sure i’ll find this anthology here but i’ll look out for it. i’m esp interested in seeing a character analysis of ravan that goes deeper than a lusting demon king 😀

    shan – yes, definitely Ram had his shades of gray, that’s what my issue is.. that he is deified.. whereas yudhistir is not.. nomesayn? coz Yudhistir was definitely more honest with himself abt his character limitations than Ram was. Ram was kinda sanctimonious and preachy. so my issue is that Ram is seen as the ideal husband, which in my opinion, he is not. i guess Seeta could be seen as the ideal wife.. if ur definition of ideal includes a woman patiently taking a lot of crap from her man :-

    i loved how, in the mahabharata, draupadi BLASTS yudhistir, berating him harshly for putting her up as a bet. yeh!

  8. I would have totally taken the airlift offer from hanuman, if It was me instead of sita. expression on ravan’s face when he came back to ashok vatika to find her gone like poof!!! that would have been priceless and good revenge too IMHO.

  9. Now, that would be an interesting heroic story… with ancient paint gun, of course.

    I read the “retold” William Buck versions which I know is a sin. I agree the Ramayana seemed more ideal in its characterizations. Maybe that is its point. It tries to present the ideal vision of society and relationships and good versus evil; whereas the Mahabharata gives a more nuanced description of resolving life’s daily problems – especially Arjuna’s dilemma in the Gita in the Mahabharata. I agree that the Ramayana seemed pretty male dominant and was intended to preserve the male dominated culture. I think Sita was a more interesting character than Rama because his heroism came so naturally and calmly. Sita appeared to endure more suffering yet maintained her integrity. The men had the culturally sanctioned option of acting out aggressively (yet hopefully noblely) and she had to endure other ways. I probably am over-simplifying.

    I know my reading is not the same as someone who has grown up with the stories and the myths. I think I can’t experience the same “aliveness” that you absorbed. I think kids hearing these stories when three and four and five will hear them with magical thinking and experience them as truly real events.

  10. well, that.. and a lot of the Mahabharata stories were characterized in comic books… like the Amar Chitra Katha comics. so yeah.. as a kid, my imagination of these characters were coloured by stories told by my nani (grandma) at bedtime, and as i grew up, the comic books with their marvellous depictions of the epics kept me enthralled. i didn’t actually read the ramayana or mahabharata until i was 11 or 12.

  11. @Choc
    You should be able to find it…its pretty popular internationally from what I know, and has seperate Indian and International editions, with the International edition having descriptions of various terms which an Indian reader would easily understand. Its available on Amazon too.

    @Peter
    Like I said, Banker’s take on the Ramayana is different from the others. Same is valid w.r.t your point of it showcasing a male dominated society, as this version depicts Kaushalya (Rama’s mother), Sita and Mandodari (Ravana’s wife) as powerful entities as well.

  12. Its always got to me too, on the one hand theres a fascinating story of going into exile and travelling all over, and the kidnap and rescue, thats all so much more interesting to me than the Mahabharat which is so masculine warlike, or thats the impression I got, but only from bits and bobs, never reading any all the way through, and then theres the post Sri Lanka, where Rama rejects his wife after all they all went through to get her back. That sours everything. Thats why for me it sounds better to have a telling of the stories as an adventure fantasy then a moralistic example of how to live as a great king. Also, I’m uneasy about the Gita part of the Mahabharat being considered so moralistic too because Arjuna was forced to fight in a war against his will and told don’t worry about your relatives dying because they’ll be reborn anyway. And Krishna, a popular god, telling him all that. Does anyone else feel weird about that or is it just me. I know it can be held as a metaphor for self development, but its using the field of war and seemingly justifying it. Arjuna seemed to have had some of the love and peace hippy in there somewhere.

  13. When I was researching hot spring locations in India I found that there is a Sita temple by a ‘hot river’ deep in the Sitamata Wildlife Sanctuary in Rajasthan. It is one of the claimed locations for Valmikis ashram where Sita stayed for ten years. Thats on my list of places to visit if I make it back to India.

  14. Latest update from Ashok Banker on Ramayana series’ facebook page :

    Hi all,
    Just a quick note to let you know that Penguin Books India is making an offer for the Indian rights to Vengeance of Ravana, Sons of Sita and the first book in the Ramayana Series graphic novel adaptations. Once we finalize the deal, they’ll schedule the books for sometime late 2009, perhaps November-December 2009..I really wish it could be sooner, but that seems the most likely publication date.
    I shan’t be offering publishing rights outside the country so as with the previous six books, these shall only be available in India. The new books will have an updated version of the Introduction ‘Retelling the Ramayana’ which you read in the previous books and the last book in the series, Sons of Sita, will also have a longish Afterword.
    Am really looking forward to the publication of these books and the completion of the epic, as are all the half-million Ramayana Series readers around the world, I hope! :~)
    Ashok

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