Once again, author Ravi Venugopal comes with a new version of the story of Rama, the King of Ayodhya, the 7th Avatar (incarnation) of Lord Vishnu, as told by Rama himself.
This story has been told a number of times in the past. The original epic was the work of Rishi Valmiki. The story has then be retold and adapted in various forms and versions by various authors including Tulsidas (the Ramcharitramanas in Hindi) and Kamban (a 12th century poet in Tamil) amongst others and in various languages. The epic has been presented in various forms be it popular stage performances or televised serials.
So what is new about this book? There are as many variations in the details of the epic as there are narrators. The common thread in all these earlier versions is the glorification of Rama as a God, as an incarnation of Lord Vishnu who came down to earth to establish the rule of righteousness and was an ideal king.
This book is the first part of a trilogy. Ravi Venugopal has, presented this story in autobiographical form (as narrated by Rama himself) and has integrated elements of what is currently the domain of science fiction as well as of religious cosmology into this tale. The story brings out the human side of Rama while providing a different perspective of various aspects of the life and times of Rama. The author has woven a mystery into the story, which will unravel over the trilogy. This part of the trilogy starts with the history of humans and stops at the point where Rama with his wife Sita and brother Laxman settle down in Chitrakoot.
Particularly interesting is the style of presentation, starting with one of the last chapters of the trilogy, set in the times of the British Raj at the beginning. It adds an element of surprise, arouses one's curiosity and lends and air of suspense. The second chapter delves into the time when the Brahmarishis had a conference to discuss a mysterious crystal which had parts of the souls of Shiva and Narayana suspended in it and how to stop it from falling into the wrong hands. Thereafter Ram takes on with the narration of his life story.
The story certainly tugs at the heartstrings, when one sees Rama as a human being with a divine purpose, who as a human being has his own cross to bear. He is a born human with human feelings and emotions but with a divine purpose, some of which he is aware of. The rest will unveil itself to him with the passage of time.
The story presents a different perspective of Kaikeyi as a warrior queen who loves Rama as much as his own mother does. It gives us the reasons why she acted as she did. Just as interesting and refreshing is the way Sita is presented, not just as a Paragon of Feminine Virtue, the way as she is in other versions, but as an intelligent, thinking woman with powers no less than Rama. There are already hints of how she is able to foresee events and guide their course to their logical conclusion. After the Rishis, it is Kaikeyi and Sita who are depicted as having the powers to foresee events, events which are as yet unclear to Rama.
While certain liberties have been taken with the original epic, in that some very authentic sounding stories have been added to it, the book is very gripping and is sure to appeal to readers of all ages and cultures.
Very intensively researched and a must read. I can hardly wait for the next two parts to be published! :-D