Thursday, August 18, 2016

Overview: Tulsidas Ramayana: Ram Charit Manas

Title: Tulsidas's Ramayana
Author: Tulsidas (adapted)

Comments: The Ramayana of Tulsidas is probably the most well known and beloved version of the Ramayana in India today. You can find out more at Wikipedia: Tulsidas.

Bizzell: This is in the Bizzell Stacks: PN 6790 .I443 A43694 2010 (click the call number to check the book's availability).

Length: two and a half weeks (A-B-C-D-E). This is actually five separate comic book issues bound in a single book, so you can use this for two-and-a-half weeks of reading. To finish up that third week, you might want to try this single-issue comic book about the author of the poem: Tulsidas: The Poet Who Wrote Ram-Charit-Manas (that one is on Reserve in Bizzell).

PART A. The Childhood Days of Rama (p. 1). The story begins with Shiva telling Parvati about Vishnu and two of his earlier incarnations: Vishnu took the form of Varaha, the boar, to defeat the demon Hiranyaksha, and later he took the form of Narasimha, the man-lion, to defeat Hiranyaksha's brother, the demon Hiranyakashipu. These two demons have been reborn as Ravana and his brother Kumbhakarna. Meanwhile, their brother, Vibhishana, is a demon who is nevertheless devoted to Vishnu. Ravana is tormenting the world, and Vishnu needs to reincarnate again to defeat him. With the help of the gods, King Dasharatha of Ayodhya has four sons. The eldest appears to his mother in his divine form as Vishnu, but she asks him to let her see him as a baby. All four boys are happy, healthy, and handsome. Rama again manifests himself as a god to his mother Kaushalya, but then returns to his childhood form.

The boys then go live with the sage Vashishtha in his hermitage for their education. Sage Vishvamitra comes to ask for help in defending his hermitage from demons, and the king reluctantly allows Rama and Lakshmana to go with him. The boys battle the demons successfully. They then set out for the city of King Janaka; along the way, Rama frees Ahalya from her prison of stone. King Janaka receives them warmly, as do the people of the city. When they are in the garden, Rama catches a glimpse of Sita, King Janaka's daughter, and is smitten; she also glimpses him and falls in love. She prays to the goddess Gauri (Parvati), and the goddess drops a garland upon Sita as a sign. In the swayamvara contest to become Sita's husband, the other warriors cannot even lift Shiva's bow, but Rama strings the bow and pulls it so tightly that it snaps in two, and so Rama wins Sita as his bride.

PART B. Rama in Exile (p. 33). Parashurama arrives, furious about the broken bow. Lakshmana defends Rama's actions, and he argues vociferously with Parashurama, but Rama speaks calming words to Parashurama, and he gives Rama his own bow. Rama's father and his other brothers, Bharata and Shatrughna, come to the city of King Janaka for Rama's wedding, and Rama's three brothers marry into Janaka's family also. The newly wedded couples return to Ayodhya.

Dasharatha decides the time has come to retire and make Rama his heir. Everyone rejoices except Manthara, the old woman who is the maid of Queen Kaikeyi, Bharata's mother. She convinces Kaikeyi that Queen Kaushalya is plotting her downfall and that of Bharata, and she urges Kaikeyi to use two promises owed to her by Dasharatha to exile Rama and to make Bharata king. Dasharatha is grief-stricken; he will gladly make Bharata king instead, but he begs Kaikeyi not to make him send Rama into exile. She insists, and Rama says he will obey any command from his father. When Sita and Lakshmana learn Rama is going into exile, they want to go with him. The people of the city also try to go with him, so Rama confuses the tracks of the chariot wheels to keep the people from being able to follow him.

Guha, king of the Nishadas, welcomes them to the forest. They must cross the Ganges river, and at first the boatman is afraid to take the mighty Rama in his boat, but he finally agrees. They go to the Triveni where the Ganga, Yamuna and Saraswati rivers join. Then they go to the hermitage of sage Bharadwaja, and then the hermitage of sage Valmiki who sends them to Chitrakuta Hill. Back in Ayodhya, King Dasharatha remembers a hunting accident in which he killed a young boy; he now sees that the loss of Rama is the result of the curse put on him by the boy's father, and he dies. Bharata and Shatrughna return from their grandfather's house to find Dasharatha dead and Rama exiled. Bharata is furious, and Shatrughna tries to kill Manthara, but Bharata stops him. He seeks out Rama in the forest, intending to have him crowned king.

PART C. The Abduction of Sita (p. 65). Even King Janaka has come to the forest to see Rama, but Rama refuses to become king, insisting that his father's wishes be obeyed. Rama gives his sandals to Bharata as a token to take with him, and Bharata places them upon the throne to represent the absent Rama, while Bharata wore a hermit's garb and lived in a hut, honoring Rama's exile. In the forest, Rama rescues Sita from the son of Indra disguised as a crow, and the wife of the sage Atri, Anasuya, gives Sita divine clothes and jewels to wear. Sage Sharabhanga departs the world after seeing Rama. When Rama learns of the destruction done by demons in the forest, he vows to rid the world of them. Sage Agastya recommends that Rama go live in Panchavati in Dandaka forest on the Godavari river. There they befriend Jatayu, king of vultures.

Then the ugly rakshasi Shurpanakha, sister of King Ravana, sees them and falls in love with Rama. She disguises herself as a beautiful woman and proposes marriage, but Rama jokingly rejects her, and when she attacks Sita, Lakshmana cuts off her nose and ears. She flees to hear brothers Khara and Dushana, who then make an attack; Rama sends Lakshmana and Sita away to the safety of a cave while he fights the demons. He battles thousands of demons at once, multiplying himself by means of illusion so that it looks like there are many Ramas.

After Rama kills Khara and Dushana and their army, Shurpanakha goes to Ravana in Lanka. Ravana is obsessed with how strong Rama must be and how beautiful Sita is. Ravana goes to the demon Maricha to ask for his help, but Maricha warns him of Rama's strength; Rama had nearly killed Maricha when Rama had been just a boy. Ravana does not listen to these warnings, and finally Maricha complies. He makes himself into a beautiful golden deer to attract Sita's attention. Rama leaves Sita in Lakshmana's care and chases the deer. When Rama slays the deer, it cries out in Rama's voice for help, and Sita makes Lakshmana go to Rama, leaving her alone.

A hermit arrives, seeking alms, but it is Ravana in disguise, and he carries Sita off in his flying chariot. Jatayu tries to stop him, but Ravana cuts off his wings. As they fly to Lanka, Sita drops a garment to some monkeys she sees on the ground as a sign. Rama and Lakshmana return, find Sita gone, and learn from Jatayu what happened. Jatayu dies, and Rama and Lakshmana head south in search of Sita. They meet Kabandha, the headless demon, and by overpowering him, he turns into a gandharva, freed from the curse that made him into a demon. They meet the low-caste woman Shabari at sage Matanga's hermitage, and Rama praises her faith, and she then sends them to seek out the monkey Sugriva at Lake Pampa.

PART D. In Search of Sita (p. 97). Sugriva, together with Hanuman, the monkey god whose father is Vayu the Wind, meet Rama and Lakshmana. Hanuman disguises himself as a brahmin but when he finds out that they are Rama and Lakshmana, sons of Dasharatha, he reveals his true form and takes them to Sugriva. Sugriva's brother Vali has sent him into exile, so he needs an ally, and Rama needs help to rescue Sita. They vow friendship, and Sugriva explains that he saw Sita being abducted, and he has the garment that Sita dropped. Sugriva explains the details of how and why Vali sent him into exile.

Then, Sugriva goes to challenge Vali to a fight. Vali's wife, Tara, urges him to be cautious. Sugriva wears a garland so Rama can tell one brother from another, and Rama shoots Vali in the heart. Lakshmana crowns Sugriva as king, with Vali's son Angada as crown prince. Rama waits with Lakshmana in the wilderness for the monsoons to end, and then they will search for Sita with the monkeys' help. Rama grows angry when it appears that Sugriva has forgotten his vow to help in the search; Sugriva apologizes, and the search begins.

The monkeys go out in all directions, and Rama entrusts Hanuman with his ring, hoping that Hanuman will find Sita and be able to give it to her as a token. Hanuman's search party meets a mysterious woman in a cave (her name is Swayamprabha) who promises them they will succeed in their search, and she magically transports them to the ocean's shore. There they meet Sampati, the brother of Jatayu, who tells the story of how his wings were burnt off when he saved Jatayu's life years ago. His wings then begin to grow back. Jambavan the lord of the bears encourages Hanuman to use his great powers to jump all the way to Lanka to look for there. As he flies over the water, Mount Mainaka offers him a resting place, and he then escapes from the sea serpent Surasa and a hungry rakshasi (her name is Sinhika).

When Hanuman reaches Lanka, he shrinks to a smaller size and fights with the guardian spirit of Lanka; she realizes this is the beginning of the end of Lanka. He finds Ravana asleep, without Sita. He then sees Vibhishana, Ravana's brother, chanting Rama's name devotedly, which inspires Hanuman to go talk with him, and Vibishana reveals that Sita is in the grove of Ashoka trees. Hanuman hides in one of the trees and watches as Ravana visits Sita, hoping to seduce her, but she defies him. Ravana threatens to kill Sita, but his wife Mandodari stops him. Then one of the rakshasi guards, Trijata, reveals her prophetic dream about the destruction of Lanka, and she urges the other rakshasi guards to be kind to Sita.

When Sita is alone, Hanuman drops Rama's ring from the tree, and she is amazed. At first Sita is afraid (she has never met Hanuman before), but he calms her and promises that Rama will rescue her. Ravana's soldiers attempt to capture him, and he kills Ravana's son, Akshay. Ravana then sends Indrajit (Meghnad), who captures Hanuman and brings him to Ravana. Ravana orders that Hanuman's tail be set on fire. Hanuman then escapes, and he manages to set the whole city on fire, sparing only Vibhishana's house. He then returns to Sita, and she gives him a jewel to take back to Rama as a token. He leaps back to the mainland. When Rama hears the news, he gets ready to attack Lanka with his army.

PART E. Rama the Victorious (p. 129). The old and wise rakshasa Malyavan (he is Ravana's great-uncle) tries to persuade Ravana to give Sita back, and Vibhishana also argues with Ravana, but Ravana will not listen. Vibhishana joins Rama. Lakshmana captures some of Ravana's spies and sends them back to Lanka with an ultimatum: Give back Sita. As a show of strength, Rama sets the ocean on fire, and the God of the Sea appears; he tells Rama to build a bridge to Lanka. Mandodari also urges Ravana to make peace with Rama, and so does Ravana's son Prahasta, but Ravana will not listen. Rama shoots an arrow that knocks off Ravana's crown and Mandodari's earrings, and he then sends Angada as a peace envoy. Prahasta challenges him to a fight, and Angada kills him. Ravana speaks rudely to him, and Angada grabs some of Ravana's crowns and hurls them all the way to Rama's camp. Angada then returns to Rama, and the war begins.

A fierce battle rages, and the monkeys are able to kill many rakshasas. Malyavan again urges Ravana to make peace, but he refuses. Indrajit (Meghnad) leads a deadly attack, and Lakshaman is among the fallen. Hanuman carries the house of Sushena to the battlefield, and Sushena explains the only possible cure is an herb from the Himalayas. Hanuman then flies to the Himalayas, and Ravana sends his agent Kalanemi to thwart Hanuman by luring him into the water where there is a deadly crocodile. Hanuman defeats the crocodile who turns out to be a cursed nymph, and she warns him about Kalanemi so Hanuman can put a stop to him. When Hanuman reaches the Himalayas, he cannot find the herb so he flies back with a whole mountain, and Bharata sees him as he flies by Ayodhya (Ayodhya is in northern India), and Bharata shoots an arrow at him. When Hanuman explains who he is, Bharata offers to shoot an arrow towards Lanka so that Hanuman can return even more speedily by riding on the arrow. Hanuman reaches Lanka at last, and Sushena uses the herb to heal Lakshmana.

Next, Ravana awakens his brother, the giant Kumbhakarna who is dismayed to hear of all the rakshasas who have already died in battle. He attacks Rama's army ferociously, but Rama finally kills him, and Ravana grieves. Indrajit (Meghnad) then leads another attack, using magic to make himself invisible. Garuda comes to Rama's aid, while Indrajit plans to make himself invincible by means of a special ritual. Vibhishana reveals where Indrajit can be found, and Lakshmana thus is able to kill him before he becomes invincible.

Now Ravana himself will fight Rama, and after a fierce skirmish, Ravana retreats, but the monkeys torment him until he returns and in a final confrontation, Rama slays Ravana at last, using a secret revealed to him by Vibhishana that allows him to strike a deadly blow. After Ravana's funeral, Vibhishana becomes king of Lanka, and Hanuman brings Sita to Rama. Sita proves her innocence in a test of fire, and then Rama and Sita return to Ayodhya in Ravana's flying chariot, Pushpaka. Rama and Bharata are reunited, and Rama becomes king of Ayodhya at last.

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