kiskiKAHANI (the Ramayana Project)

300 Ramayanas and Counting . . .
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The forgotten heroine

Posted on by Imran

Was Urmila the real ideal wife? Shweta Ganesh Kumar on the heroine who slept through 14 years of the epic.. The first time I read about Urmila was in a Malayalam novel of the same title. And even then it was not like the book was my first choice. It was a compulsory textbook for ninth standard students that told a familiar story through an unfamiliar perspective. Though I started to read it under compulsion, soon enough I was drawn to the character the story revolved around. The voice was that of a woman who has barely been given three to four lines in Valmiki’s Ramayana. This was Urmila, Sita’s sister and wife to Rama’s devoted brother Lakshmana. A woman who was asked to stay back to take care of her in-laws by her husband who was leaving for the forest for fourteen long years. As the story follows Rama, Lakshmana and Sita, Urmila is left behind, unseen and unheard. By all standards, Urmila is a minor character. One amongst the four daughters of Janaka and the four daughters-in-law of Dashratha, she does not have a major role to play. Yet the untold story of her sacrifice is one that has fired many a poet’s imagination and inspired many a writer to make her their muse.  After all, in the few lines dedicated to her, even Valmiki categorically states her sacrifice as unparalleled. Rabindranath Tagore classified Urmila as one of … Continue reading

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The Chiranjeevis of the Ramayana: Where are they now?

Posted on by Imran

Folklore tells us of seven chiranjeevis or immortals, who play an important role in the Indian epics. These are persons who have been granted the boon of everlasting life. In the Ramayana, we come across four such characters. Even more interestingly, three of these characters appear in the Mahabharata as well, reinforcing the immortality myth. Jambavan or Jambavanta, said to be a venerable old vanara in the Ramayana, appears at two points in the epic. An advisor to the exiled monkey king Sugriva, Jambavan encourages Hanuman to leap across the ocean. He tells Hanuman about the Mrutasanjeevani, the all-curing plant, which he learned about during the churning of the ocean. Jambavan is said to have dueled with Ravana in his youth. In the Mahabharata, Krishna finds him an as an old sloth bear in a cave. He struggles with him to procure the Symantaka Mani, the most famous jewel in Indian mythology. Jambavan, age not withstanding, fights with Krishna for twenty-eight days till he recognizes him and bows down. He hands over the gem and marries his daughter off to Krishna. Both Jambavan and the gem then disappear within the vast depths of Indian mythology. Where are they now? While some claim that the gem is none other than the Kohinoor diamond, Jambavan seems to have withdrawn into the mists to live out his everlasting years in obscurity. Keeping a low profile might be a relatively easy thing to do … Continue reading

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Kishkindha revisited

Posted on by Imran

Sugriva’s cave Bright eyes look down from atop a boulder. I smile at the mischief glinting in them. They take it as an invitation and in a flurry of swishing tails and graceful limbs, the monkeys leap from one precariously perched rock to another. Standing where I am at Hampi in Northern Karnataka, it is not hard to imagine that this could be the birthplace of one of their most famous mythical ancestors – Hanuman. For Hampi, the erstwhile capital of the Vijayanagar Empire, is also supposed to be Kishkindha, the land of the monkeys in the Ramayana. In the epic, Kishkindha is the monkey kingdom ruled by the brothers Vali and Sugriva. Rama reaches here, en route his quest for his abducted wife Sita. He and his brother Lakshmana meet Hanuman who leads them to Sugriva, the ousted king of Kishkindha. Sugriva takes them to a cave where he shows them a set of jewels that Sita threw down from the flying chariot or the Pushpak Vimana Ravana abducted her on. Later on, Rama kills Vali and restores Sugriva to the throne. Rama and Lakshmana then take refuge in Kishkindha while Hanuman flies across to Lanka to search for Sita. In the minds of the locals here, there is no doubt that Kishkindha and Hampi are one and the same.  Hampi is the Kannada derivative of the ancient name Pampa Kshetra, and Pampa the olden name of the River … Continue reading

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