Ravana speaks up

Nikhil Bhave
Saturday, 27 January 2018

Name: Ravana Leela
Author: Radha Viswanathan
Publisher: Rupa
Pages: 274
Price: Rs 295

Ramayana is one of the two great epic poems of Hinduism, the other being of course, the Mahabharata. Like all oral epics, there are multiple versions of the same story with one basic similar core. The difference lies mainly in details and portrayal of characters, some controversial.

Name: Ravana Leela
Author: Radha Viswanathan
Publisher: Rupa
Pages: 274
Price: Rs 295

Ramayana is one of the two great epic poems of Hinduism, the other being of course, the Mahabharata. Like all oral epics, there are multiple versions of the same story with one basic similar core. The difference lies mainly in details and portrayal of characters, some controversial.

In some, Ravana is a villain, in some a flawed person, but an ardent devotee of Shiva, a capable ruler and a connoisseur of arts. Nevertheless, he remains the antagonist. Although a very essential one to the core mythology.

After all, what is a hero if he does not have a worthy adversary? But what if the roles were reversed? What we have never seen so far is Ramayana from Ravana’s point-of-view. And with the mythological fiction now attracting a lot of new talent, Ravana’s side of the story is now being heard.

Author Anand Neelakantan has explored this angle of the Ramayana with his novel Asura and Amish’s third novel in the Ram Chandra series will be focusing on Ravana. Now former journalist Radha Viswanath, whose maiden venture Ravana Leela, sheds light on the Rakshasa king of Lanka.

The book opens as Ravana’s grandfather Sumali plans to get back to Lanka. Those plans lead to Ravana’s birth. We are offered a glimpse into characters such as Sumali and Ravana’s mother herself, Kaikasi. Most adaptations usually glance over these characters while focusing on Rama and his conflict with Ravana. Here, Rama is almost a secondary, as he probably should in the story of Ravana, hence the title Ravana Leela. Instead, it focuses on how Ravana rose from humble beginnings to become a mighty king and his logic behind his moves. We also come to know more about his other siblings. Vibhishan is well-known, but what do we know really about Surpanakha or Kumbhakarna?

While technically this book falls in the genre of fiction, the blurb states the author has collated information about Ravana from the Valmiki Ramayana, and compared them with other versions of the epic before using them in the book. Clocking in at 274 pages, the narrative moves along at reasonable speed, except faltering a bit in the middle. The end also feels a bit rushed. All in all, a solid read.

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