Thursday, August 18, 2016

Overview: Gould. Divine Archer.

Title: The Divine Archer
Author: F. J. Gould
Year: 1911

Comments: This is a nice, short prose version of the Ramayana, drawing on both Valmiki and Tulsi Das. It contains many memorable scenes and some great details (especially the material from Tulsi Das), while also covering the story in a very fast-paced and tightly focused way.

Free Online: See all the links at Freebookapalooza.

Length: one week. I've divided the reading into two parts: Part A - Part B.

Reading Guide: There is a detailed reading guide below with notes, links, and images. I have provided links in the Reading Guide to the Internet Archive copy of the book, with additional links to Wikipedia if you want to learn more about the characters.

(Reading Part B starts at Section 7 below.)

See the final paragraph for examples of the power of the Rama Nama, the name of Rama. You can read more at Wikipedia: Ram Nam.

SECTION 1 (p. 3)

p. 3. Birth of Dasaratha's Sons. The story begins with the celebrations for the birth of Dasaratha's four sons by his three queens: Rama is the son of Kaushalya, Bharata is the son of Kaikeyi, and Lakshmana and Shatrughna are the sons of Sumitra. Rama is the greatest among the four brothers, loved by all. (The auspicious signs on Rama's feet — the thunderbolt, flag, and elephant-goad — are known as the vajradhvaja, and ankusha in Sanskrit.) Kaushalya sees the baby Rama manifest as a cosmic being, and then go back to being a baby once again! Even as a young boy he masters the Vedas.

p. 6. The hermit Vishvamitra. The wise hermit Vishvamitra seeks help from King Dasaratha to defeat the demons that persecute him. The king is reluctant to let Rama go, but he finally agrees to let Rama and Lakshmana go with Visvamitra to fight the demons. After they fight the demons, Visvamitra takes the boys to the river Ganges, and they then go to the city of Videha, where Janaka is king. There Rama and Lakshmana see a tournament field. They also visit the royal gardens, and there they are seen by a maid of Princess Sita, daughter of King Janaka.

SECTION 2 (p. 11)

p. 11. Rama and Sita. Sita and Rama fall in love at first sight. Sita prays about Rama to the goddess Bhavani, while Rama dreams of Sita at night. To win Sita's hand, the suitor must bend the bow of the god Shiva. Vishvamitra urges Rama to try; Rama bends the bow so firmly that it snaps.

Note: This idea of a world held up by elephants on the back of a turtle (p. 13) is not really an Indian notion, but the god Vishnu did take the form of a turtle, Kurma, and held Mount Mandara on his back. The idea of the World Turtle may be inspired in some way by this legend of Vishnu's turtle avatar. The legend of the World Turtle and the World Elephant(s) is going strong in Terry Pratchett's fantasy Discworld. Wikipedia also has an article about "Turtles all the way down."

p. 14 Parashurama. As the rival suitors threaten Rama in his moment of victory, Parashurama (Rama-with-an-Axe) appears and demands to know who has broken Shiva's bow, which had formerly been in his possession. Lakshmana boasts that Rama has snapped the bow, and Parashurama then presents a bow of the god Vishnu to Rama; Rama easily strings Vishnu's bow. Parashurama then honors Rama. (Both Parasurama and our hero Rama are regarded as early incarnations, or avatars, of the god Vishnu.)
Note: The thousand-armed fiend that Parashurama refers to is Arjuna Kartavirya, whom Parashurama defeated.

p. 16 The Wedding. King Dasharatha comes in a procession to the wedding, which is marked by good omens. The three brothers of Rama also marry on that same day, and then the four married couples return to Ayodhya.

SECTION 3 (p. 19)

p. 19. The Succession. King Dasharatha plans to make Rama his successor, and his guru (who is Vashishtha) urges him to do so quickly. Meanwhile, the evil servant Manthara manipulates Queen Kaikeyi, mother of Rama's brother Bharata, so that she will oppose Rama. Because Dasharatha once granted Kaikeyi two wishes, he must now do as she asks, and she demands that Bharata be the successor and that Rama go into exile for fourteen years.

p. 24. The New Succession. King Dasharatha is devastated, as is Rama's mother, Queen Kaushalya, but Rama obediently agrees to this change in plans. Sita and Lakshmana insist on joining Rama in exile.

SECTION 4 (p. 26)

p. 26. The Exile. Rama, Sita, and Lakshmana leave the city, and at night they rest under a simsapa tree. They cross the Ganges and enter the forest. The hermit Valmiki advises them to go live on the hill called Chitrakuta.

p. 29. The Death of Dasharatha. The king realizes that Rama's exile fulfills a long-ago curse. As a young man, he went hunting and shot at what he thought was an elephant, but he killed a boy by mistake. When Dasharatha told the boy's poor, blind parents about what happened, the father cursed Dasharatha so that he, too, would suffer the loss of a son. After he tells this story to Kaushalya, Dasharatha dies.

p. 31. Bharata. Bharata returns to Ayodhya and learns that his father is dead. He is furious at his mother for what she has done. After Dasaratha's funeral, Bharata decides to seek Rama and persuade him to return home, but Rama refuses to disobey his father's command. Bharata returns home without Rama, but he takes with him a pair of Rama's sandals to place on the king's throne until Rama's exile is over.

SECTION 5 (p. 34)

p. 34. Agastya. While in exile, Rama, Sita, and Lakshmana visit the sage Agastya. The sage gives Rama divine weapons to help him in the struggles he will face. Agastya then urges Rama to relocate to Panchavati forest, and Lakshmana builds them a house there.
Glossary: Most of the southern part of India is on the Deccan Plateau. The nyagrodha tree is the banyan tree of southern India.

p. 36. The demon woman. A demon woman (her name is Shurpanakha) falls in love with Rama. She proposes marriage, but Rama explains that he is already married. She then tries to seduce Lakshmana, who mutilates her. Infuriated, she summons the demon army to attack them, but Rama and his brother defeat all the rakshasa warriors.

p. 39. Ravana, King of Lanka. The demon woman escapes and goes to her brother Ravana, the powerful demon king of Lanka (Ceylon) who has ten heads and twenty arms. Ravana decides to challenge Rama. He persuades the demon Maricha to help him trick Rama and kidnap Sita by appearing as a golden deer. When Sita sees the deer, she begs Rama to chase and catch it. When Sita hears what she thinks is Rama calling for help, she sends Lakshmana after him.

SECTION 6 (p. 41)

p. 41 Ravana and Sita. Lakshmana does not want to leave Sita, but she insists he go after Rama. Ravana then approaches Sita, disguised as a hermit. He then reveals her identity and asks her to be his queen. She refuses, but Ravana carries her off anyway. The valiant king of the vultures, Jatayu, battles with Ravana, but Ravana cuts off his wings. When Rama and Lakshmana rush home, they find the dying Jatayu, who tells Rama what happened.

p. 45. Sugriva and Hanuman. Rama and Lakshmana meet the monkeys Sugriva and Hanuman. Sugriva has been exiled by his brother Vali (Bali). Sugriva and Rama vow to help one another, and Sugriva shows him Sita's scarf which the monkeys found when Sita dropped it from Ravana's flying chariot. Rama and Sugriva then go to confront Sugriva's brother Vali.
Glossary: These monkeys are called Vanaras in Sanskrit; the Wikipedia article discusses the theory, which Gould mentions here, that these "monkeys" were actually tribal peoples of southern India.

* * *


SECTION 7 (p. 48)

p. 48. The search for Sita. Sugriva fights Vali, but it is Rama who slays him with an arrow. After the monsoon season the search for Sita begins, and Rama gives Hanuman his ring as a token for Sita. Hanuman's search party heads south and on the shore of the sea they meet a vulture (it is Sampati, the brother of Jatayu) who tells them Sita is in Lanka. Hanuman jumps to Lanka, overcoming an enormous monster (named Surasa) along the way.

p. 52. Hanuman in Lanka. Hanuman reaches and Lanka and finds his way to Vibhishana, who is loyal to Rama although he is Ravana's own brother. Vibhishana sends Hanuman to the ashoka grove where Ravana is keeping Sita. Hanuman, in hiding, sees Sita refuse Ravana's advances. Ravana departs in anger, and one of the rakshasis (demon-women) who guard Sita reveals her prophetic dream. The rakshasis leave the grove, and Hanuman speaks to Sita, giving her Rama's ring. He tells her Rama is coming. Hanuman then tears up the trees in the grove; the demon soldiers arrest him and bring him to Ravana's court.

SECTION 8 (p. 56)

p. 56. Lanka on fire. Ravana sentences Hanuman to death, but Vibhishana protests. Ravana decides to set Hanuman's tail on fire, and Hanuman makes his tail grow larger and larger. The enormous fire causes the city of Lanka to go up in flames, except for the house of Vibhishana and Sita's ashoka grove. Hanuman returns to Sita once more, who gives him a jewel to take back to Rama as a token. Hanuman then returns to Rama's camp.

p. 58. Preparations for war. After the burning of Lanka, the rakshasas are afraid of Rama. Queen Mandodari tries to persuade Ravana to make peace, as does Vibhishana. Even Kumbhakarna, Ravana's giant brother, urges him to return Sita to Rama, although he is ready to go to war. Vibhishana goes over to Rama's side. Ravana gets ready for war.

p. 61. Rama marches on Lanka. On the advice of the Ocean God, Rama and his army build a bridge to Lanka, engineered by the monkeys Nala and Nila. Rama signals his arrival in Lanka by shooting at arrow into Ravana's own royal court, knocking off Ravana's crown.

SECTION 9 (p. 63)

p. 63. The battle begins. Rama's army attacks and the fight lasts all day. The next day, Lakshmana leads the attack but Ravana's son Indrajit (Meghnad) wounds him, and Hanuman must fly off and bring back herbs to heal him. The next day, Kumbhakarna attacks, but Rama kills him. Days of battle pass until Rama and Ravana face each other in combat.

p. 66. The war ends. The god Indra sends his chariot to Rama, along with weapons. Using Indra's bow, Rama slays Ravana. Queen Mandodari grieves for her husband, and Rama grants Ravana a grand funeral. Hanuman then brings Sita to Rama. Rama explains that Sita must prove her fidelity, and order Lakshmana to build a fire. When Sita emerges from the fire unscatched, Rama embraces her. Vibhishana becomes king of Lanka and takes Mandodari as his wife. Rama, Sita, Lakshmana and Hanuman ride in a flying chariot to Ayodhya, where the people rejoice.
Glossary: The "swans" that pull the flying chariot are called hamsas in Sanskrit; you can read about the hamsa bird at Wikipedia.

SECTION 10 (p. 71)

p. 71. Sita and the twins. Despite the test by fire, the people still gossip about Sita, and Rama sends her into exile. The sage Valmiki takes Sita into his hermitage, and there she gives birth to twin sons, Lava and Kusha. Years later, Rama decides to conduct a special horse sacrifice (Ashwamedha), and people come from all around to celebrate, including Valmiki and the twins, and the twins recite the story of Rama, the Ramayana itself (the Sanskrit version by Valmiki). Rama asks where they learned his story, and the boys explain that Valmiki taught them. The next day the boys perform again, and people see that they look like Rama. Finally, Valmiki reveals to Rama that they are his sons. Valmiki offers to bring Sita to Rama the next day.

p. 75. Sita's departure. Sita comes the next day, and she sees Rama on his throne. She then calls upon Mother Earth (the goddess Bhumi), and she again declares her fidelity, asking Earth to take her if she has been true to Rama. A golden throne emerges from the earth, and Sita takes her place upon the throne, disappearing into the earth.

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