Sunday, June 8, 2014

Reading Guide Week 1: Buck. Ramayana.

READING A (go to Reading B)

This portion of Buck's Ramayana covers pp. 1-59 (page numbers may vary by edition). It includes some fantastic stories about Ravana and his backstory! They come from the "Uttara Kanda" (the final book) of Valmiki's Ramayana, but Buck decided to weave them into the opening of his book, and it is really powerful!

p. 1. Opening address by Indrajit and Invocation.

Buck begins his book with an address to the reader spoken by Indrajit, the invisible rakshasa warrior. Indrajit speaks to the reader about Narayana (Vishnu), and about the poet Valmiki, who will compose the Ramayana. The invocation begins with the sacred syllable Aum (Om). There is an invocation to Narayana (Vishnu), Lakshmi, Hanuman, and the goddess Saraswati.

p. 3. Sauti and Saunaka. 

The two friends Sauti and Saunaka are in the Naimisha Forest. Sauti has told the story of the Mahabharata to his friend, and now Shaunaka asks to hear the story of the Ramayana.

p. 5. Valmiki. 

Narada arrives in order to call Valmiki out of the anthill because Rama's wife, Sita, needs his help. Because of gossip, Rama has exiled Sita, who is at this time pregnant with his twin sons. Narada instructs Valmiki to rescue Sita and to teach Rama's story to his two sons. Valmiki hears the song of a dying bird as it cries out to its mate. Valmiki puts a curse on the hunter who killed the bird, and the curse comes out in verse form (poetry, a song). Valmiki thus becomes a poet. The god Brahma appears and reveals Rama's story to Valmiki. Valmiki teaches the poem, the Ramayana itself, to Kusha and Lava, the sons of Rama, who then sing the song at a festival which Rama himself has organized in the forest.

p. 9. King Dasharatha. 

With the help of Vasishtha, his priest, and Sumantra, his charioteer ("suta"), King Dasharatha prepares a sacrifice so that he can obtain sons.

p. 11. Ravana. 

The rakshasa lord Ravana has challenged the god Indra. Because of the powers granted to him, Ravana is able to defeat the gods. He makes the gods work as servants in his palace. Brahma tells Indra to to go to Narayana (Vishnu) for advice about what to do. Indra begs Vishnu to become incarnate in human form in order to defeat Ravana.

p. 15. The Sons of Dasharatha. 

After eating the rice obtained from King Dasharatha's sacrifice, Kaushalya gives birth to Rama, Kaikeyi gives birth to Bharata, and Sumitra gives birth to Lakshmana and Shatrughna.

p. 17. Rakshasas. 

When the boys are sixteen years old, Vishwamitra arrives at the palace to seek help in his ongoing battles with the rakshasas. Vishwamitra describes the creation of the rakshasas in ancient times, starting with the birth of a baby rakshasa named Sukesha. Sukesha had three sons: Mali, Sumali and Malyavan. They went to Vishwakarma, the architect of the gods, to ask for a home and he built Lanka City for them. The rakshasas became numerous and started prowling at night, looking for victims. One of them even swallowed Narada, but had to spit him out. Narayana (Vishnu) attacked the rakshasas and killed Mali. Sumali and Malyavan escaped. The rakshasas fled underground to the Naga kingdoms.

p. 25. Pulastya and Vishravas. 

The daughter of the hermit Trinavindu became pregnant by the curse of the sage Pulastya, the mind-born son of the god Brahma. Their son was named Vishravas. Vishravas in turn had a son named Vaishravana (later called Kubera, or Kuvera). Brahma made Vaishravana the lord of treasures and wealth. Brahma also gave to Vaishravana the chariot called Pushpaka and bestowed on him the gift of immortality. Vaishravana went to live in Lanka. Sumali saw Vaishravana's wealth and was jealous, so he sent his daughter Kaikasi to Vishravas in order to have sons by him. They had four rakshasa children: the ten-headed Ravana, the giant Kumbhakarna, Vibhishana the good rakshasa, and a rakshasi daughter, Shurpanakha.

p. 29 Ravana. 

Thanks to his terrifying austerities, Ravana was granted many powers by Brahma. Ravana could not be conquered by gods, asuras, yakshas, rakshasas, or nagas (but he neglected to ask for protection from mere human beings). His brother Vibhishana received the gift of always remembering Dharma. Kumbhakarna asked to sleep for six months after every day of waking. On the advice of his father Vishravas, Vaishravana the treasure lord went to live on Mount Kailasa in the Himalayas, turning Lanka over to Ravana and his rakshasas. Ravana married Mandodari, and they had a son, Meghanada (who will later win the name Indrajit).

p. 32. Ravana and Shiva. 

As Ravana caused more and more destruction, the refugees fled to Vaishravana in the mountains. Vaishravana sent an emissary to Ravana, but Ravana killed the emissary and ate him. Ravana and his general Prahasta attacked Mount Kailasa. Manibhadra and the yakshas fought fiercely against the rakshasa attack, but Ravana was too much for them. Vaishravana surrendered, but Indra was angry and cursed Ravana. Ravana was also cursed by Shiva's bull, Nandi. Ravana even shook the mountain home of the god Shiva, and Shiva imprisoned Ravana, but Ravana sang such beautiful songs that Shiva later let him go.

p. 35. Ravana and Arjuna, King of the Haihayas. 

The Haihaya people were the only ones who did not surrender to Ravana. Arjuna-of-the-Thousand-Arms (more commonly known as Kartavirya) was king of the Haihayas. Ravana attacked the king while he was bathing in the Narmada River. The king caught Ravana and squeezed him with fifty of his arms. Ravana's grandfather Pulastya had to rescue him.

p. 38. Ravana's Other Conquests. 

At Narada's urging, Ravana next challenged Yama, the god of death. Prahasta was afraid to cross the Vaitarani River and enter the realm of death. Even Yama surrendered to Ravana. Then Ravana and his son Meghanada went down into the Naga kingdom, ruled by Vasuki, under the dominion of Varuna. Ravana then flew in his Pushpaka chariot up to the sky, where Surya the sun and Chandra the moon surrendered to him. Finally, Ravana attacked Amaravati, Indra's heaven. Indra planned to defy Ravana, and Chitraratha, king of the Gandharvas, slammed the gates of heaven shut to keep Ravana out. The battle was fierce, and Puloma arrived to rescue Indra's consort Indrani and Chitraratha. Indra's elephant Airavata attacked and wounded Ravana. Ravana's son Meghanada captured Indra, and so he acquired the name Indrajit (conquerer of Indra). The Battle of Heaven took place one year before Rama's birth.

p. 47. Vishwamitra and Rama.

Back to Vishwamitra - remember Vishwamitra? He is the one who has been telling the story of Ravana to Dasharatha. Vishwamitra wants Rama to help him fight against the rakshasas, so Rama and Lakshmana become his students. The rakshasas Maricha and Subahu attack Vishwamitra's sacrifice. Lakshmana kills Subahu, but Maricha escapes. (You will notice that Buck has not included the story of their mother, which you read about in Narayan's version of the story: remember Thataka?)

p. 51. Rama and Ahalya. 

On their way to Mithila, the capital city of King Janaka, Rama restores Ahalya to her former beauty, releasing her from the curse of her husband Gautama who had found her in bed with Indra (and no, this is not the same Gautama as in "Gautama Buddha" - there were a number of Indian sages and philosophers named "Gautama").

p. 53. Rama and Sita. 

In Mithila, Rama's strength breaks the bow of Shiva in Janaka's possession and so Rama is able to marry Janaka's daughter Sita (Sita had fallen in love with Rama at first sight). Rama's three brothers also marry daughters of Janaka's household. Janaka himself performs the marriage of Rama and Sita, and then Dasharatha brings his sons and their wives back to his capital city, Ayodhya.

READING B (go to Reading A)

This portion of Buck's Ramayana covers pp. 60-109 (page numbers may vary by edition).

p. 60. Dasharatha and Kaikeyi.

While Bharata is away visiting his grandfather, Dasharatha designates Rama as his successor and begins to make plans for the coronation ceremony. Kaikeyi is at first delighted by this news, but Kaikeyi's servant Manthara convinces her that it would be a disaster for them both if Rama became king. At Manthara's prompting, Kaikeyi decides to use two promises owed to her by Dasharatha: she demands that Bharata be made king and that Rama be sent into the forest in exile for fourteen years. Dasharatha has no choice but to agree to Kaikeyi's wishes. Rama obeys without objection. The priest Vasishtha urges Sumantra the charioteer to accept the situation.

p. 71. Rama's departure.

Before leaving, Rama and Sita give away their possessions. Sumantra still refuses to accept the situation and tries to persuade Dasharatha to relent, but fails. Rama asks his father not to be angry at Kaikeyi. As Rama prepares to leave, the citizens of the kingdom of Kosala are determined to follow him. The elders of the royal city Ayodhya cause the river to rise up and block Rama's path so he has to stop for the night.

p. 87. Guha.

Rama, Sita, and Lakshmana are received by Guha in the forest. Guha tells the story of how he rejected Shiva's priests and kicked the statue of Shiva every day without fail. Then when Guha died and was being led to Yama's realm, Shiva rescued him because he considered Guha to be his most devoted follower.

p. 95. The language of animals.

Guha tells the story of how Kaikeyi had once tried to use her power to get Dasharatha to teach her the language of animals, even though Dasharatha was forbidden to share this knowledge at the cost of his own life. When Dasharatha heard the animals talking about his situation amongst themselves, he realized he did not need to do what Kaikeyi had asked.

p. 99. Bharadwaja.

Sumantra returns to Ayodhya, while Rama, Sita, and Lakshmana go south. They are received by the sage Bharadwaja, who urges them to take up residence at Chitrakuta. Lakshmana builds a house for them there.

p. 104. The death of Dasharatha.

Sumantra tells the grief-stricken Dasharatha about Rama's departure. Dasharatha remembers how as a young man he had accidentally killed a boy in the forest and how the boy's parents had asked to be placed on the pyre with their son. Dasharatha sees a connection between the death of that boy and the loss of his son. When Kaushalya awakes the next morning, she finds that Dasharatha is dead.

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