Book Review : Siege of Mithila - Ashok K. Banker  

Posted by CK in , ,

I know it's been a long time since I posted anything but I've been super busy. Lots of things happening which have something to do with my absence. But I shall elaborate on those later.

For now, I'd like to say, I completed Book 2 of The Ramayana series by Ashok K Banker and yet again, it was excellent.





Book 2 picks up moments after Book 1 left off. The Princes of Ayodhya have vanquished the Asura Tataka and have fulfilled their servitude to the Brahmarishi Vishwamitra, or so they think.

News has reached the Arya nations of the advance of an Asura horde sweeping across the country, heading straight for the defenseless Arya nation of Mithila, home of Janaka and his four daughters. After the last Asura war, Janaka has turned his entire nation to the pursuit of one thing, enlightenment. It is in this pursuit that the army was, for all intents and purposes, disbanded and ritual and pooja became the mainstay of the populace along with the pursuit of a higher state of dharma.

Vishwamitra informs the young princes that the next road on the way to stopping Ravana lies in Mithila. He doesn't inform them till much later that this is the target of the ten million strong Asura horde that threatens to wipe out the defenseless Arya nation.

Along the way, they meet new friends, face more perilous missions and finally, enter the Swayamvar of the Princess Sita on the eve of the Asuras landing at Mithila. It is there that Ravana, in disguise, tries to steal Sita away by winning the competition only to be bested by Rama at the last moment. The challenge is to lift the Bow of Shiva (which is iron cast and weighs 500 kilos), string it and shoot at a target. Rama steps in to challenge the demon king and bests him, thereby winning Sita's hand and also tying their fate together.

But is there a point? The mainstay of the Asura army is knocking at their doorstep (literally) and there is virtually no time to call on allies or reinforcements as every nation is too busy getting their own armies on alert. So, the Rajkumars' Vajra (50 horses and a few elephant), the two Princes, the Brahmarishi and a host of sadhus face what looks like a lost cause.

Or is it?

This is another tale resplendent with Vedic mythology, more tales of good vs. evil while the two brothers march along their preordained path to glory, hand in hand with dharma.

It is little known whether Rama was a real historical figure whose acts of bravery were so legendary that he went down as an incarnation of Vishnu or whether he was a complete fabrication of Valmiki, the robber turned saint who recieved the divine story from Ganesha.

Here is an excerpt from the Author's Note:

Adi-kavya: The first retelling

Some three thousand years ago, a sage named Valmiki lived in a remote forest ashram, practising austerities with his disciples. One day, the wandering sage Narada visited the ashram and was asked by Valmiki if he knew of a perfect man. Narada said, indeed, he did know of such a person, and then told Valmiki and his disciples a story of an ideal man.

Some days later, Valmiki happened to witness a hunter killing a kraunchya bird. The crane’s partner was left desolate, and cried inconsolably. Valmiki was overwhelmed by anger at the hunter’s action, and sorrow at the bird’s loss. He felt driven to do something rash, but controlled himself with difficulty.

After his anger and sorrow subsided, he questioned his outburst. After so many years of practising meditation and austerities, he had still not been able to master his own emotions. Was it even possible to do so? Could any person truly become a master of his passions? For a while he despaired, but then he recalled the story Narada had told him. He thought about the implications of the story, about the choices made by the protagonist and how he had indeed shown great mastery of his own thoughts, words, deeds and feelings. Valmiki felt inspired by the recollection and was filled with a calm serenity such as he had never felt before.

As he recollected the tale of that perfect man of whom Narada had spoken, he found himself reciting it in a particular cadence and rhythm. He realized that this rhythm or metre corresponded to the warbling cries of the kraunchya bird, as if in tribute to the loss that had inspired his recollection. At once, he resolved to compose his own version of the story, using the new form of metre, that others might hear it and be as inspired as he was.

But Narada’s story was only a bare narration of the events, a mere plot outline as we would call it today. In order to make the story attractive and memorable to ordinary listeners, Valmiki would have to add and embellish considerably, filling in details and inventing incidents from his own imagination. He would have to dramatize the whole story in order to bring out the powerful dilemmas faced by the protagonist.

But what right did he have to do so? After all, this was not his story. It was a tale told to him. A tale of a real man and real events. How could he make up his own version of the story?

At this point, Valmiki was visited by Lord Brahma Himself. The Creator told him to set his worries aside and begin composing the work he had in mind. Here is how Valmiki quoted Brahma’s exhortation to him, in an introductory passage not unlike this one that you are reading right now:

Recite the tale of Rama … as you heard it told by Narada. Recite the deeds of Rama that are already known as well as those that are not, his adventures … his battles … the acts of Sita, known and unknown. Whatever you do not know will become known to you. Never will your words be inappropriate. Tell Rama’s story … that it may prevail on earth for as long as the mountains and the rivers exist.

Valmiki needed no further urging. He began composing his poem. He titled it, Rama-yana, meaning literally, The Movements (or Travels) of Rama.

*~*

Man, I love this series. So, dutifully, I'm on the third book already... Demons of Chitrakut.

This entry was posted on Monday, January 4, 2010 at Monday, January 04, 2010 and is filed under , , . You can follow any responses to this entry through the comments feed .

1 comments

I am reading this one and really like it though it has a different if not just detailed take on the Ramayana I had heard, watched and read as a kid... Though in essence the story remains the same, it has a fresh look on the story and definitely riveting style of writing.

January 29, 2010 at 12:45 AM

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