kiskiKAHANI (the Ramayana Project)

300 Ramayanas and Counting . . .
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Ahalya: Theme and variations

Posted on by Imran

Lakshmi Holmström talks about the different Ahalya stories in Kamban, Mudaliar and Pudumaippittan Why do some stories beckon writers through the ages, calling for retellings and re-interpretations? In this essay, I begin with the Ahalya story as Kamban presents it in the Balakandam of his retelling, in order to tease out some of the ambiguities which he builds into it. I then examine some modern Tamil versions where the story is taken up and re-worked in a variety of ways. In Kamban’s version, Viswamitra arrives at the walls of Mithila with the young Rama, after their adventure with Tadaka, the rakshasi. The dust of Rama’s feet settles on the black rock that was once Ahalya who, brought back to life, falls at Rama’s feet and worships him. After this has happened, Viswamitra tells the back story of the curse that turned her into stone. God Indra, having fallen in love with the beautiful Ahalya, wife of Gotaman the sage, sneaks into the hermitage in Gotaman’s absence, disguised as him, and sleeps with Ahalya. However, Gotaman returns, and curses both Indra, who is instantly covered in a thousand vaginas, and Ahalya who turns into stone. Just before Ahalya is petrified into stone, in answer to her plea that he should set a limit to the curse, he declares that the dust of Rama’s feet will one day set her free. The immortals, meanwhile, plead on behalf of Indra, and Gotaman changes … Continue reading

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Sita’s fire ordeal from Kamban’s Iramavataram

Posted on by Imran

Sita’s fire ordeal (Summoned by Rama, through Hanuman, Sita arrives at the battlefield.)   She saw him: his body leaf-green, his mouth coral-coloured, His great bow in his hand. And she who was unblemished, thought, ‘My body is polluted, bereft of life; what is there left for me to desire?’   Surrounded by celestial beings she arrived in her chariot. As if a false body, deprived of dearest life, seeing it again reaches out, so she went to him, her face unveiled.   ‘Now that I worship my lord – my husband through all time, my husband beyond rebirth— were I to forget, fall down and die, or whatever else befall me, yet all shall be well,’ she said, free of sorrow at last.   The lord of all life gazed at her: queen of faithfulness, safeguard of womanhood, beauty of all beauties, essence of all fame the very image and embodiment of dharma’s grace.   Tears streaming down her breasts like rivers, she bowed to him, lovely as a peacock, chastity’s self. And he watched, outraged, like a cobra rearing his head.   ‘You enjoyed your food! Though disgraced you did not die! Fearless, you lived in the great city of the lawless rakshasa, entirely submissive! So why come here now? Did you imagine I should still want you?   ‘It was not to save you that I bridged the sea, cut down to their root these rakshasas with … Continue reading

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