kiskiKAHANI (the Ramayana Project)

300 Ramayanas and Counting . . .
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Searching for Sita

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Ten years after the return of Ram and his victory at Lanka, Ayodhya is prospering. A journalist tries to discover the truth behind the dissatisfaction at the heart of this regime. But most importantly, where is Sita? In this extract we revisit Ayodhya in a unique piece of speculative fiction by Samhita Arni Chapter 1 It was already dark when I was ushered into her private parlor. She was barely visible, shrouded in shadows. She moved and the shadows slithered away, unwrapping her desiccated frame. “I prefer the darkness,” she had said. “In one’s old age, darkness is far kinder than light.” She was dressed impeccably – fashionable in a classic black chiffon sari, a simple strand of pearls clasped around her neck. But her sagging flesh and heavily rouged face spoke another, sadder story. I had begun with the cliché list of questions I had prepared. She yawned, bored, and answered politely. But at some point, a question provoked a response. She rose, and walked towards the windows, posture erect and graceful despite her age. She paused at an open window, and lit a cigarette. The moon glinted in the sky. “The city was burning that night,” she spoke loudly, grandly. “The night he returned. He had a hero’s welcome. While I… I was less fortunate. The people were in high spirits that night, and someone flung a molotov cocktail into my dining room. I had moved out of … Continue reading

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The Many True Kandas

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The Ramayana is a continuing, many-sided conversation between cultures and religions. By scrapping AK Ramanujan’s essay from its syllabus, can Delhi University ignore that exchange? Samita Arni tells us how. Last fortnight, Delhi University decided to remove AK Ramanujan’s essay Three Hundred Ramayanas: Five Examples and Three Thoughts on Translation from its history syllabus, perhaps in response to earlier protests in 2008 over the inclusion of this essay. The decision scares me for many reasons, partly because it suggests that a viewpoint is beginning to prevail which perpetuates the notion of the Ramayana as exclusive, Hindu property, and ignores the fact that the Ramayana has been re-told — and is still being re-told — by Muslims, Buddhists, Jains and people of other faiths. My own life bears this out. As a child who accompanied a diplomat father on various overseas postings — Indonesia, Pakistan and Thailand — the one constant in all the cultures I spent my childhood in was the Ramayana. In Indonesia, a largely Muslim country, we watched Wayang Kulit, the shadow puppet theatre which has plays on stories from the Ramayana. In Pakistan, I was told as a five-year-old that “Lahore” came from Lavapuri, from a legend that Lahore was founded by Ram’s son Lava. In Chennai, my birthplace and the city my mother comes from, stories are still told of the founder of the Dravidian movement, EV Ramasamy Naicker, Periyar, who wrote a banned version of … Continue reading

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