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Kings & Queens in Exile

Assignment: The Ramayana by R.K. Narayan – Penguin Classics (August 29, 2006)

Sita Sings the Blues – Trailer

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7y5_zJ1xfQs]

Nina Paley on Sita Sings the Blues – “Free Culture” and Art

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M7mB_WlihQo]

Theatre Adaptation of “The Ramayana” by NYU Abu Dhabi Students

The Ramayana Documentary from Justin Nestor on Vimeo.


14 thoughts on “February 12

  1. Like the Odyssey and consequently the Penelopiad, the Ramayana explores the concept of a struggling hero imbued with the best qualities man has to offer, proving his might and strength of character time and time again in a form of gospel. Like the Odyssey, the inclusion of myth creates an otherwordly variant to the story that allows the reader to step back and observe the events as a story but also as life lessons. I was fascinated by the fact that the people of India were so drawn and attached to a somewhat hastily made television program recounting the Ramayana, regaling in the feats of an ancient hero. To me that is in the true spirit of a king or queen; One who leaves a legacy that is told time and time again because despite the passage of time the lessons learned and trials overcome still bear fruits of truth in any modern context. Such a feat requires a powerful message or historical lesson, that not only overthrows modernity but continually revives itself among the people. When a king or queen declares himself or herself a righteous manifestation (Louis XIV, Pharaohs, God Kings, etc…) of divine will, I feel like this is the kind of story and legacy they wish to leave behind. The fictitious nature allows the reader to detach from reality and see the lessons not as past relics, but as old songs passed from one person to another. (see: bards and Greek storytellers) And like Hans Christen Anderson’s stories, they display the truth through a lie in the same way art does.

  2. The Ramanyana was a piece that was first created as an epic Indian poem. It is filled of magic and wonders. I was not enjoying this translation at all. When I opened the book I almost wanted to shriek about how it was written. When I this of Indian I think of the rich and colorful culture. I felt that this translation fell short of what originally was said.

    When I read into this, I felt like this was an Indian version of the Odyssey, the hero, Rama and is also gifted with a bow and arrow similar to Odysseus. Rama was going on a journey in the end to save his wife from the demon king like how Odysseus went to save his wife from the suiters who had ill intentions.

    My first encounter with the Ramayana was when I had to be maybe six years old from a VHS called “A Little Princess” In the story the main character tells the story of Princess Sita and Prince Rama. The setting travels forms into this great epic with the beautiful colors and characters. There was something magical when I first saw it which made me want to make stories of my own.The retelling of their fable is classic.

  3. I thought the Ramayana was quite refreshing after reading both Oedipus Rex and Oedipus at Colonus. For once, the Gods don’t meddle, in the sense that they don’t tell all the humans what their fate is. Doing it Greek-style, it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. In the Ramayana the Gods at certain points were nervous as to how everything was going to turn out.

    As far as Rama, he is very obviously considered to be the ideal King. What was interesting about his character was the worship-like relationship with his would-be subjects. Krishna is also one of Vishnu’s many incarnations, and has a huge following. It wouldn’t be such a leap to say that Rama has been treated much in the same way, as a means of venerating Vishnu. In the story, they mourn his leave, one dying of grief, others following him outside the city walls. The association of Kings as gods (or the closest thing to it) has been seen throughout history, worldwide. When I was in high school in the Dominican Republic there were still students my age arguing that Trujillo’s era was the heyday of the country. Trujillo, the nastiest dictator we ever had.

    On the other hand, you do have the cautionary tales. Those who fall pray to greed and anger, those who take what they want. That’s the other side of kings and queens. They create their own downfall.

  4. The Ramayana by R.K. Narayan, is a brief, more modern version of the 12 century Tamil epic Kamba Ramayanam, which was based on the Sanskrit Ramayana by Valmiki from about the 5th century, regarded as India’s first poet, and is one of India’s two great epics. Although the 20th century version is much shorter than what it was inspired by, all tell the story of King Rama, depicting our duties in relationships the ideal figures, such as the ideal father, the ideal king, and the ideal son. The majority of Indian people know some version of the story of Ramayana, often being told it in childhood at bedtime or something. After R.K. Narayan wrote his English translation, many more English speakers were exposed to the mythological tale. Now, normally I like mythology, and the overall story of the Ramayana seems really interesting. However I think this version is far too compressed for such an intense story of Heroes, Deities and Demons that are supposed to teach us better virtues as humans. I think if I were to go out of my way to find out more of the Ramayana, and read a more extensive or at least somehow more interesting version of it, I’d enjoy it.

  5. The Ramayana is a story of epic proportions enveloped in ardent love, love conquests, and a relentless need for power and control, even if it is at the cost of others. The imagery through the book transported me to a place completely foreign to me. I had a taste for how beautiful these epics from India are due to one of my closes friends being from India. I was just taken back by how much of a treat this was I suppose. It has instances where it feels like you’re reading a parable (which is correct), and other times a novella. An example is when the sage caught Indra making love Ahalya; consequentially cursing him and saying: “your obsession with the female is your undoing may your body be covered with a thousand female marks, so that in all the worlds, people may understand what really goes on in your mind all the time.”

  6. the story reminds me alot of the epic of Gilgamesh, this powerful demi god like man who is given mystical weapons in order to hunt down a demon or monster. they go out and have an adventure. it’s sort of romantic i feel, the ability to look at life in such a way. adventuring slaying demons ending up in strange and epic battles, the jounrey always being more intresting than the destination. as to be expected of a story involving kings and queens there seems to be a lot of betryals and subterfuge in order for people to claim more power of their own. Rama himself being forced into a long exile after giving up claim to his fathers throne.

  7. Not once have I heard of this book in all of my years. Although it was very enjoyable. If its one thing I enjoy about most of these books we’re reading is that they have some aspect of everyday life from other cultures embedded in them. In this Indian epic, the relationships that these characters hold are far to near and dear. Many of this could be view as perfect beings. As Rama follows the orders given to his father even after his death, regardless oh his brothers begging. Even though the respect and relationships they hold are perfect they are still human beings, with faults. Rama’s wife, Sita, is asked to stay behind but even so she simply replies to him “the forest where you dwell is Ayodhya for me and Ayodhya without you is a veritable hell for me.” It is clear she is willing to go to the ends for her husband to stay near.
    It is odd to see how power was passed along in this epic. After the current king had died, it was only natural that one of his wives would feel threatened of their power. And the only way to retain it would to ensure that her son would be the next to the throne. OF course this led to Rama’s exile. But while he was in exile, Bharata did not want to take part in the deeds his mother had put in placed. He felt the Rama was meant to be the one for the throne and only acted in his behalf until the exile was up. It was interesting to see that he didn’t take up the power that was suddenly granted to him. Unlike Kaikeyi’s insecurities which led to a breaking of relations or so she would of thought to be, Bharata kept true to the “perfect” relationships that he and his brothers as well as hi fathers kept. Compared to The Odyssey and Oedipus , you can see that the connections they hold with their peers are no where near as perfect as the ones in this novel. These are more ‘godlike and untouchable’ in contrast to the more ‘human and fragile’ in the previous stories.
    Overall it was a fantastic epic to read and gain insight on how tales are told in varying regions.

  8. I don’t consider the Ramayana as a story. I consider it an adventure. You get see what the main character, Rama goes through during the story. First, his stepmother banishes him and his wife, Sita from the kingdom and sends both of them into the woods. Then after the Raksahsa woman fails to seduce Rama, her brother, Ravana, kidnaps Sita and takes her to a island called Lanka.

    The whole time these crazy things are happening, I’m rooting for the guy. What happened to Rama was a grave injustice. If his stepmother hadn’t been greedy, she wouldn’t have exiled him and Sita and they wouldn’t have suffered. What I find interesting is the “trail of fire” part. Rama has doubts about Sita’s loyalty. In his mind, Ravana had an opportunity to touch Sita but then to prove herself to her husband, She steps into the trail of fire. It’s crazy that she would do such a thing. People have done crazier things for love. But, Rama knew that Sita would always be loyal to him even before she stepped into the fire. That’s when you really know someone.

    I really liked this story better than The Snow Queen because it has the last honest man in the kingdom and he does the right thing even the right thing is a hard thing to do. He’s conflicted with the choices that he makes. This guy goes against great odds to do the impossible: to win. If there was a moral to the story it would be this: never give up and live in the moment.

  9. Ramayana, one of the greatest Indian epics, explores the journey of man both physically to rescue his wife, and mentally as he discovers virtue and a sense of purpose. Through creating idealist characters that stray from the corruption and cynicism that the world often brings, there is a sense of optimism and reward, like in most epics. Morality and ethical value play an extremely large role in this epic, and in a sense becomes a lesson to the reader. Ramayana was enjoyable to read, yet I found it a bit confusing and hard to keep track of the many characters within the story. However, the many characters compensate for their lack of dimension. The characters play their expected roles, and the emphasis lies much more, if not solely on the plot as opposed to the psychological standpoint.

  10. I had the same feelings for “The Ramayana” as I did when I read the Odyssey for the first time. Considering both these stories are Epic’s that originated in different countries, it might make sense why I feel similarly about them.The general story of the Ramayana was quite interesting. All the different gods, and trials Rama has to go through are generally interesting and imaginative. The stories Viswamithra tells of all the different gods as he guides Rama through the dessert are nice breaks in the story (they also help tie together where they have ended up, and why).

    The theme of ‘Kings and Queens’ is played on a little bit in this story. This is because not only are there the high powers of kings and queens, but even higher powers of gods and goddesses.
    Rama as a king, is typical hero. Curious and good, Rama has few flaws, but makes mistakes like any mortal. Most of his bad fortune however is brought on by others. The way that Sita and Rama meet is a little bit uncharacteristic of most kings and queens as well. Most kings and queens marry through an arranged marriage, and rarely get to see each other beforehand. Rama and Sita not only catch a glimpse of each other before they are married, but Sita becomes completely obsessed.

    As for the way this book is written, it was not my cup of tea. The sentences struck me as synthetic (but perhaps this is because it is a translation). As I said before, the stories in this book strike my interest, but reading them in text is not particularly fun. The names also tripped me up a lot, and made it difficult to keep the story straight (the list of characters in the front was only so helpful).

  11. I really loved the way they described the reincarnation aspect of the “Wedding” chapter, it was just a very beautiful thought in my opinion. It shows how in the mentality of the book how the world works and why Sita and Rama feel familiar with each other on another level. I personally like to dabble in that way of thinking and it’s a relief to read something that doesn’t shun the thought of another life after this one, i think of it in a positive way and it was refreshing to find this scattered thought of mine actually being put into play. I really thought it was cool how they’re new bodies do not allow them to recognize each other in this life but they have to start anew which is something that you don;t read every day.

    On the other hand there is a undertone of “mind over body” and where it gets very strange, in the end when Sita has proved to be true to Rama over her time away, she still throws her body into the fire as proof. Then a god saves her and returns her to Rama proving her to be truthful. That completely rubbed me the wrong way, because such a beautiful story of love turns into some life or death abstinence trial.

    It’s also strange the interaction between the characters who are “seemingly” human and the gods and demons. How naturally they al interact and it’s all very normal for them, this is where i see the thesis theme tying in, because of the ideas of kings being next to gods it somewhat resonates to the theme with the idea of divinity.

    I also sort of read this in my mind as bible stories of India? Being the unfortunate child born with a forced religion due to very outdated ethnic religious beliefs, i was in many versions and countless years of Sunday school so i know my way around the Roman Catholic bible. I recently watched a couple movies based upon biblical tales and i just somewhat visualized when i read something in this style and i thought of the colors and all that in my mind as i read (trying to tie in art with the readings..agh! This was dream works production of the story of Moses. By the way i’m 100% not religious and i absolutely adore these films for the storytelling aspects and aesthetic beauty)

  12. The Ramayana is a magical epic story set in India in which a story of royal fashions is depicted in the form of life lessons to be lived out accordingly by Hindu followers. It is a story of love and and in the end a fight for those you love, even in the face of an extreme struggle. Rama the son of King Dasharatha is challenged throughout the story even as he is chosen to wed his future wife Sita. Overall the story consists of even more challenges presented to Rama as he is stripped of his rightful throne and banished into the wild. Rama is a complacent man who is willing to do whatever is necessary to complete his Dharma and live a life without hesitation. Rama and Sita are banished into the forest and life quite peacefully even in the face of banishment they find it in them to live their lives to the fullest. Rama is eventually stripped of his wife Sita by the evil ten headed king of Lanka, Ravana. He has a lustful desire for women and comes upon Sita in the forest and will eventually plot to kidnap her and he will try to seduce her so she will be come his wife. Eventually Rama will rescue Sita from Ravana’s grasp and he will return to his former kingdom of Aydohya as the rightful leader. The story is rooted deep in selfless-ness and love and respect. Rama is devout to Sita regardless of any situation and he will do anything to stay by her side. Rama’s attitude towards his banishment says alot about his over-all demeanor and willingness to cary on his life with Sita. It seems as if as long as they are together their lives cannot be diminished. As soon as Sita is taken from Rama he shifts his attitude towards the heroic and non-complacent side. This story can be attributed to modern relationships, yet only to a certain extent. The epic aspects of the story allow for the like-able and heroic characters to to stand out. Rama’s extreme devotion towards Sita is something than doesn’t quite exist in society anymore. People tend to cheat, lie and steal like never before, Perhaps the idealistic approach is no longer seen as “liveable” in western societies. The beauty behind this story is that it is a staple tale among eastern cultures, even to a religious extent. Therefore is sets a proper example on how people should uphold there mannerisms in hopes for a successful and happy life. The story depicts evil as a force willing to lie, steal and cheat in order to obtain what is desired. When in actuality the best things come to those that commit themselves to a lifestyle based upon patience and selfless-ness. The overall idea that affects me most is that, one must live for the moment and be as true as possible. Even though these ideals seem far-fetched in modern societies, they still can provide a proper existence only if one chooses to act upon proper mannerisms and an overall healthy and positive lifestyle.

  13. I don’t think I’ve ever read the Ramayana, but do know that it’s a famous Indian epic. While reading up to the chapter “Wedding.” I remembered on the syllabus, there was something stating that the class will be watching “Sita Sings the Blues” eventually. I immediately thought of the video with the song “Who’s That Knocking at my Door?” where Sita is inside her place of captivity while Rama is outside battling his way inside to defeat Ravana and rescue Sita. Right there I thought of the Penelopiad. Sita follows Rama into exile, which shows loyalty like how Penelope resists all her male suitors for ten years while Odysseus is away. It’s no doubt that the Ramayana is influential with its themes of adventure, immortality and the weakness of being human and faulting as a human. Rama is supposedly invincible yet he becomes like almost putty in Sita’s hands. Like many other Kings, Rama is motivated by a woman. I’ve heard a quote once before that “Behind every successful man is a woman.” Rama definitely fits that quote. In the past, kings and queens were looked up to as beings of divinity or messengers of divinity, and therefore can have some sort of otherworldly powers. To see great people falter because of some small mistake or impulsive emotion shows people that no one is incapable of failing in some way. Although there are sometimes I felt like parts of the Ramayana were a little bit unrealistic (such as how genuinely people seemed to support others), I must say that I was pleasantly surprised by the role of women in this epic. Sita is the embodiment of all good and it was her goodness that puts an end to others’ cynicism when she was tested by Rama. Again, with the unrealistic part, I was reminded in class we discussed that the period between the end of a previous king’s rein and the ascension of the next king is the most dangerous period for a society. It was unrealistic, but also refreshing to see a brother accept that it’s his sibling who will be king and not him. I don’t know what the original Ramayana would read out like, but I think this shortened version was still beautifully written.

  14. Lichen
    Although the Ramayana is a very old story, Rama’s adventures and battles seem so familiar in today’s entertainment. An umbrella of flying arrows, flying chariot battles, chants deflecting weapons, invisibility, size shifts… it really does prove that stealing ideas from history makes the best stories today. Queens in the Ramayana are given supporting roles in society. They are very much loved and respected by the king but do not directly assert power. On the other hand, kings are very moved and persuaded by women, but it is lust that is the weakness that leads to the downfall of even the most powerful kings. Lust and pride are the two faults that led to the fall of Dasaratha, Vali, Ravana, and Soorpanaka, who also had a lot of envy. Although Rama is described to be an ‘ideal man’ I don’t view his haste or mistakes to be out of line. He is still human, and that aspect drives the story forward. Although he is determined to fulfill his father’s demands and rid the world of asuras, Rama is also motivated by Sita and passion. Inevitably, he will make mistakes but it is his victory over them that proves him to be the ‘perfect man’. Even in the end when he requested Sita prove herself by walking unharmed into fire, I thought it was not because Rama was being hypocritical or harsh, but it was because he knew she was good and wanted everyone else in the world to have no doubts or suspicions. Although it seems unfair that the queens do not hold power over the land or that one son was chosen over the other by their father as successor, I’m surprised at the overall rationality and willingness of individuals to support one another without animosity. The society seems balanced rather than abusive of power. Even enemies such as Vali were able to see that he was flawed and was able to be happy for his brother taking the throne. The characters who prevail without harm were always in control of their minds and tempers while those who were defeated in the end died understanding their position rather than with anger. In this story, the most respected and triumphant kings were those who ruled with patience and kindness rather than absolute power and fear. Those who failed also questioned and fought fate, thinking themselves as more able and powerful. It’s a common theme but still holds true in every story. Although there were many battles, there actually seemed to be no conflict because Rama was guaranteed to be the victor. Everyone was so reasonable and forgiving and these kinds of characters don’t exist anymore.

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