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MY corner: King of Ayodhya

My Corner: Transports me to wordy realms: Just me, a book and my imagination.

Book Review

King Of Ayodhya By Ashok K Banker

The complicated art of epic telling and retelling makes it an entangled mesh of imaginations. And the protagonists- their foresight has to be accommodated too. The protagonist of the epic, Rama, the future King of Ayodhya, hardly knows whether to smile or sigh as he crosses the living bridge of leviathans into the realm of rakshasa, “he was resigned to the knowledge that virtually everything they did would be turned into lore and legend, with all the accompanying flights of imagination and exaggeration that poetic licence allowed.” As Rama, traverses the making of his own legend he seems almost amused by what story -tellers would make of his feats as the defender of Dharma. Thousands of years later, Ashok K Banker’s retelling of the epic in the modern idiom only underscores what Rama had already envisaged.

Even if you have grown up listening to the Ramayana, each new telling will not cease to surprise you. And Banker explicates in this notes that it is through the works of Valmiki, Kamban, Tulsidas, Vyasa the tradition of telling and retelling the Ramayana began. “If it changes shape and structure, form and even content, it is because that is the nature of the story itself: it inspires the teller to bring fresh insights to each new version, bringing us even closer to understanding Rama himself.”

In the last of Banker’s Ramayana series, “King of Ayodhya”, Rama leads an army of vanars and bears onto the unassailable shores of Lanka to rescue Sita from the clutches of Ravana. No army had dared to land on the island of rakshasas before. At the behest of Ravana, the sea lord Varuna sends a tidal wave (tsunami) to destroy the bridge that they had built and kill thousands. The army manages to cross with the aid of greybacks but what awaits them is sorcerous engineering of Ravana-he commands the island of Lanka to reform into a new shape under the feet of Rama’s army killing many more. The language of the times seeps into the book-tsunami, hybrid, engineering etc..

Banker’s characterization of Ravana makes him a formidable foe but an interesting one too- the ten headed Ravana is well versed in the shlokas- he can chant them backwards, perfectly inverting every syllable to reverse the energies of Brahman. Besides being a destroyer of worlds and conqueror of realms he is artistic too, “with his many talents and gifts, he was a great artist as well, not to mention a gifted poet and musician, a connoisseur of all arts.’’ It is against such an evil force that Rama and his mortal army have to fight. In the inexorable battle of good and evil only one force will triumph….and Ravana knows there is no escaping the inevitable outcome. “This war is not about any woman, and never was. This war has been waged forever. It is the eternal war, mother of all wars. It is not merely about me, or Rama, or our differences. In another time, he and I were friends much beloved of each other: in another time, we may be so again. We shall be so. Yet in this age, and this place we are at war. And neither of us, if pressed hard, can answer honestly and truly why. For the reason goes to the very soul of ithihaas itself. And as you know the word for history means simply: That is what happened.” Explains the demon Ravana just before he leaves to keep his appointment with death.

Banker’s awe of the legend manifests in the lucidity of the composition and this is magically transported to the minds of the readers - the legend of Rama of Ayodhya grows enormously larger and larger as one negotiates the army of words.


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