Sunday, June 8, 2014

Reading Guide Part A and Part B: Narayan. Ramayana.

Reading A for Week 1 is Narayan's Ramayanapp. 1-53 (page numbers may vary by edition). Check the Overview for the various ways you can access this book, including free access in Bizzell Library. You will find the notes for Reading B below.

p. 1. King Dasharatha

Narayan begins with the description of the city of Ayodhya which is located on the river Sarayu in the kingdom of Koshala, where Dasharatha is king, assisted by his advisor and mentor Vashishtha. Dasharatha has one serious problem: he has no children.

p. 4. Rama.

Parallel to Dasharatha's need for children, the gods are in need of a human being who can defeat the ten-headed rakshasa Ravana. Ravana has obtained divine protection against the gods themselves, against underworld creatures, and all kinds of supernatural beings, but Ravana did not request protection against mortal men or against monkeys. In order to defeat Ravana, the god Vishnu agrees to become incarnate as Dasharatha's son, Rama. This means that Rama is an avatar of Vishnu.

p. 5. Dasharatha's Four Sons.

Meanwhile, back in Dasharatha's court, Vashishtha advises that a yagna, or sacrifice, be performed by the sage Rishyashringa. Rishyashringa has the power to bring rain and end droughts. Dasharatha brings Rishyashringa to Ayodhya so that the sacrifice can be performed. Dasharatha obtains special rice from this sacrifice which he feeds to his wives so that they can become pregnant. His wife Kaushalya gives birth to Rama, Kaikeyi gives birth to Bharata, and Sumitra gives birth to Lakshmana and to Shatrughna.

p. 7. Vishvamitra.

Vishvamitra was once a king, but he became a sage. He arrives at Dasharatha's court and asks to take Rama with him to do battle with demons who are disrupting holy sacrifices. At first, Dasharatha refuses, but finally he agrees, although he requests that Lakshmana be allowed to accompany Rama. Vishvamitra takes the boys to a desert region inhabited by the demon Thataka. Thataka was not always a demon. Originally she was a yaksha (a type of god), but because of the wicked behavior of her husband and her sons, the sage Agastya turned Thataka and all her family into demons. You will meet one of Thataka's sons, Maricha, later in the story. Guided by his Vishvamitra, Rama does battle with the demon Thataka and kills her.

p. 13. Mahabali and the Dwarf.

In addition to teaching Rama special mantras and astras, Vishvamitra tells Rama stories. One story he tells is about the incarnation of Vishnu as a dwarf who defeated Mahabali, despite the warnings of Mahabali's advisor Shukracharya.

p. 16. Rama Battles Demons.

When Thataka's sons seek revenge for her death, Rama is also able to defeat them, along with the other demons who are disrupting Vishvamitra's sacrifices. After they defeat the demons, Vishvamitra decides to take Rama and Lakshmana to Mithila, where King Janaka lives.

p. 17. Bhagiratha.

Vishvamitra tells Rama the story of one of his ancestors, King Sakara. Sakara wanted to perform a horse sacrifice (aswamedha), a ritual that allows a king to expand his kingdom. When kings do this, the gods become worried, and when Sakara performed the horse sacrifice, the god Indra stole the horse. He hid it underground behind the sage Kapila. Sakara's sons dug a huge pit in the ground and found the horse. They tormented Kapila, who burned them all to death with the power of his gaze. One grandson survived: Bhagiratha. Bhagiratha wanted to obtain salvation for his dead ancestors, so with the help of the god Shiva he brought the river Ganga (Ganges) down to the earth.

p. 20. Ahalya.

On the way to Mithila, the dust from Rama's feet falls on a slab of a stone, and the woman Ahalya appears: she was imprisoned in the stone until released by Rama. The god Brahma had created Ahalya as a perfectly beautiful woman, and he gave her to the sage Gautama to be his wife. Indra wanted to sleep with Ahalya, so he disguised himself as her husband. Gautama found them in bed together and was furious. He turned his wife into a stone, and he made it so that Indra was covered with female genitalia. He later relented and turned the genitalia into eyes, so that Indra is the "thousand-eyed god."

p. 23. Sita.

Rama and Sita, daughter of King Janaka of Mithila, fall in love with each other at first sight — not surprising, given that Rama is an incarnation of Vishnu and Sita is an incarnation of Vishnu's consort, the goddess Lakshmi. To win Sita's hand in marriage, Rama must lift, bend, and string the enormous bow of the god Shiva, which he does, of course!

p. 35. Plans for Rama's Coronation.

Dasharatha realizes he is getting old, and so he decides to name Rama as his successor. He does this hurriedly, while Rama's brothers Bharata and Shatrughna are away. Meanwhile, one of the royal servants, Kooni (also called Manthara), goes to Bharata's mother, Kaikeyi, and persuades her to oppose Rama's coronation in favor of Kaikeyi's son Bharata instead. Because Dasharatha owes Kaikeyi two promises, Kaikeyi asks that Rama be sent into exile for fourteen years and that her own son, Bharata, should be crowned as Dasharatha's successor. Dasharatha is completely devastated by Kaikeyi's request but he cannot refuse her. Rama agrees to go into exile without protest. Dasharatha realizes that what is happening to him now is the result of an old curse from long ago, when he accidentally killed a boy in the forest.

READING B (go to Reading A)

Reading B for Week 1 is Narayan's Ramayanapp. 53-89 (page numbers may vary by edition).

p. 53. Rama's Exile. 

The people are distraught over Rama going into exile, and his brother Lakshmana is enraged, although Rama urges him to be calm. Both Lakshmana and Sita insist on accompanying Rama into exile. Dasharatha's charioteer (suta), Sumantra, supplies them with a chariot that they can use. Crowds of people follow Rama, but he manages to slip away from them in the night. When Sumantra returns with news of Rama's final departure into the forest, Dasharatha dies.

p. 59. Bharata. 

Rama's brother Bharata is away at the home of his grandfather during these tumultuous events in Ayodhya. Messengers are sent to Bharata telling him to return immediately, but without saying why. When he returns, Bharata's mother Kaikeyi informs him of Dasharatha's death and Rama's exile. Bharata is outraged by her plans to make him king. Bharata follows Rama to Chitrakuta, begging him to return. Rama insists on fulfilling his exile, so Bharata takes Rama's sandals back with him and places them on the throne. Bharata then rules as regent in Nandigram, a village outside of Ayodhya. He refuses to enter Ayodhya again until Rama's return.

p. 65. Forest Life. 

Rama moves deeper into the forest in order to escape the crowds. Rama, Sita, and Lakshmana visit sages in their ashrams. On one of these visits, Anasuya, the wife of the sage Atri, gives her jewelry to Sita. While in their exile, they encounter the great bird Jatayu, a friend of Dasharatha. Jatayu offers them his protection. Eventually they reach Panchavati on the banks of the Godavari river.

p. 67. Ravana's Sister. 

While in the forest, Rama's meets a beautiful woman who says her name is Kamavalli; her real name is Shurpanakha. She admits that she is the sister of Ravana, but insists that she has rejected the demon way of life. She declares her love for Rama and her desire to marry him. Shurpanakha decides to get rid of her rival Sita, but as she is stalking Sita, Lakshmana captures her. Although he does not kill her, Lakshmana mutilates Shurpanakha, cutting off her nose, ears, and breasts. Shurpanakha goes to Kara, Ravana's step-brother, who commands the armies of demons in the forest. Kara and his forces attack Rama, but Rama defeats them. Shurpanakha flees to her brother Ravana in Lanka.

p. 77. Ravana in Lanka. 

Even the gods and the gurus of the gods have been made into servants in Ravana's court in Lanka. For example, Vayu, the god of wind, is in charge of sweeping; Agni, the god of fire, has to light the lamps, and so on. Ravana is outraged when he sees how Shurpanakha has been mutilated. Ravana then falls madly in love with Sita based on Shurpanakha's description of her.

p. 84. Ravana and Maricha. 

In order to abduct Sita, Ravana enlists the aid of his uncle Maricha. You already read how Rama killed Maricha's mother Thataka. Maricha is now leading a life of meditation and does not want to participate in Ravana's plot, but Ravana will not take "no" for an answer. Maricha disguises himself as a golden deer which captivates Sita. Sita begs Rama to capture the deer for her. Reluctantly, Rama goes chasing the deer through the forest. When Rama finally shoots the deer, the dying Maricha calls for help using Rama's voice. Sita becomes distraught, thinking that Rama is in trouble. She compels Lakshmana to go after Rama, leaving Sita alone and unguarded.

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