Wednesday, August 01, 2012

Demons of Chitrakut – Book three of The Ramayana by Ashok Banker: Impressions

I’m only just past the third book of Banker’s 7-part Ramayana series, and I am already huffing and puffing. At 615 pages, Demons of Chitrakut is the longest and perhaps the tiresome-est book of the series. My resolve to read all seven books weakens, and I find it hard to review each book as a separate entity. What seemed like fascinating detailing in the beginning, now seems like an exercise in chewing gum that’s long lost its flavor. But I trudge along…

So, the Demons of Chitrakut is an account of the time between the Rama-Sita wedding to their exile in the forest of Panchavati. Pretty much the whole story takes place within the Suryavansha palace in Ayodhya and by the time one gets to the forest of Chitrakut and meets any demons, the book is nearly over. So what takes Rama, Sita and Lakshman so long to justify the title of the book? Drama, and a lot of it, in true Banker style.

We have Queen Kaikeyi, under the influence of Manthara and her evil spells, seducing the near-dead King Dasarath, extracting her two boons, and then regaining her sanity only to repent her actions. We have an outraged Dasarath divorcing Kaikeyi, getting his heart broken at the realization that he has banished Rama and crowned Bharat the crown-prince, and finally dying. We have, of course, Rama leaving dutifully, Sita and Lakshman in tow. We have Queen Kausalya being noble, etc. and becoming regent to the throne and we have Manthara jumping off a tower and dying because that’s how it must end for the bad guy, right? Cut to Lanka, and we have what looks like a brain dead Ravana and civil war in the nation. Finally, there is the Rama-Sita-Lakshman trio meeting sages, tribal folk, demons, Supanakha and more demons.

But, as with all things, the book has some good things as it has bad. While Banker’s long-drawn details seem unnecessary for the most part, they do well to etch each character deeply into the reader’s mind. Always-the-underdog Lakshman, for example, gets a very definitive voice and character. Another notable thing in this book is Banker’s interpretation of the idea of Lakshman Rekha. Unlike the usual grains-of-rice or arrow-on-soil boundary that the Lakhman Rekha is thought to be, Banker translates it as a grassy path that Lakshman builds with his own hands – a kind of natural border around the hut. It makes more sense if later in the plot, Sita is instructed to stay within the ‘borders’ of the hut rather than inside some symbolic boundary.

Supanakha’s character is also given more exposure, and her feelings for Rama, more sympathy. Disguised as a doe, Supanakha’s character follows Rama around all through the three books and one cannot help but feel bad when the showdown happens.

But as the plot thickens, Rama’s dharma-esque behaviours become more frequent, and his character becomes increasingly unreal. But then that’s Rama, and this is the Ramayana – the chronicles of the ideal man.Yawn.


This is part two of the seven-part series review of The Ramayana by Ashok Banker. Also read the reviews of Part 1: Prince of Ayodhya and Part 2: Siege of Mithila


jaideep khanduja said...

Hey, lovely review. Grass or arrow line symbolically; lakshman rekha is there in everyone's life - be it a man or a woman :)

Urmi Chanda Vaz said...

I agree, Jaideep. One must maintain the Line of Control. Also, thank you. :)

Sabio Lantz said...

Well, that killed it for me. I actually contemplated reading it. But I am a slow reader with almost no time.

I am doing a series on the Ramayana on my blog too.

But I have only read a few short versions.

It is almost time for me to re-read the Mahabharata (again, short versions). Do you have a favorite?

Urmi Chanda Vaz said...

Dear Sabio,

I know the reviews aren't too kind, but if you can borrow a copy from someone and give at least one book a read, I will feel the better for it. I do not wish to incur the bad karma of turning a reader away due to whatever prejudices I may have.

But yes, 7 books is definitely stretching it. I could understand if it was the Mahabharata. Speaking of which, the same author has started a Mahabharata series too. I wouldn't put my money on it. :) And no, I am yet to read a full version of the epic. Leave me a link of your blog. We may exchange notes?

Sabio Lantz said...

"Bad Karma for an honest review." -- Wow, I hope that karma does not work that way ! :-)

Here is an indexed list of my posts related to Hinduism if you are interested. I'd love to have a Hindu contributor. But you may not enjoy my posts -- or maybe you will. Hmmmm?

Thanx again for the review -- I think honesty always brings good Karma.

PS - if you click a commentor's name, it takes you to their profile where their website is usually listed.

Urmi Chanda Vaz said...

I love your blog! And I would be thrilled to be the Hindu contributor if you will have me. I'm soaked to my gills with that subject.

Shoot me a mail at

Sabio Lantz said...

Thanx -- I sent you a note.