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Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Book Review : 'Sita, an Illustrated Retelling of the Ramayana' by Devdutt Pattanaik


What made me pick this particular book up? It was a Ramayana, after all. Haven't we heard it all before? It was with much gusto that I first heard about it from my grandfather. He told me the story. After that, all of us went through the Ramayana's TV series of Ramanand Sagar. But somehow, I never took to it. I never had a fascination for it, for I saw everything through Ram’s and his kingdom’s eyes. 

But now, ‘Sita, an Illustrated Retelling of the Ramayana’, by Devdutt Pattanaik has a completely different perspective. Firstly, it has Sita in the arms of her adopted father, Janaka. We see facets of how she was found, how she was brought up and how she grew. Sita was brought up, exposed to the world of not just the kitchen, but also the sages, who offer her different perspectives, altogether (Something which, I had no clue about).

She then accompanies her uncle to Sage Vishwamitra’s ashram, a place where she sees Lord Ram for the first time. We, then see the marriage of her and her three sisters, married to the four sons of Dasharatha. I felt in the beginning, the story was starting to get a little boring until Sita comes in and has the lead role.

The conversations, which she has with Ram and with the sages is not just illuminating of her but, it draws her out of Ram’s shadow. We understand her perspectives of the world and her astuteness comes through.

We are then in Ayodhya, and quickly brought to the infamous exile of Ram. How he takes it on, and decides to go through with it are all part of this episode. The exile, Sita’s kidnapping by Ravana, and eventually her freedom and then her return to Ayodhya form the next part. Also, I felt that Ravana’s death and the knowledge he passes on to Ram, should have been explained a little better.

We are back in Ayodhya, and her story begins again. She comes into her own, when the pregnant Sita is sent off to the forest, with no explanation from Ram. How she meets Valmiki, how she ends up having two sons, her life in the forest which, she feels at home with, the education she passes on to the two boys form this episode. How Ram returns to take her from the forest, and how she gives up her life in the palace are parts, which are necessary and offer us a whole new and refreshing view of the Ramayana. 

How in the end, we just know that he will always be known as Sita’s Ram and she will always remain the hero of the Ramayana, and never let it be complete without her.

The freshness is offered to us, and it is now that I can see, that Sita never needed Ram. She was the modern woman, independent, freewheeling, and intelligent. She could always make her own life, with or without Ram, yet she gives up everything for Ram and his kingdom.

What started off a little badly, ended wonderfully. Sita in the start, Hanuman in between and with Sita in the end. The parts in the middle are replete with stories of Ramayana in so many forms and it can drag the book down. The illustrations, especially of Sita in her father’s arms, and she going back to the the earth are especially brilliant.  

Pattanaik’s perspective and his research are there, you can read them, he did show it, when he wrote 'Jaya, an Illustrated Retelling of the Mahabharata' but one wonders if all that research and writing of it was necessary in this book. But one thing is that he finally gave me the renewed Ramayana with a whole new perception, one I have made peace with. Also, do not miss the political nuances, they make for quite the interesting read.

 




Author: Devdutt Pattanaik
Genre: Mythological Fiction
Publisher: Penguin Books, India
ISBN : 978-0-143-06432-9
Price: Rs 499



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