Saturday, January 11, 2020

Famous Last Words: Ready for whatever's coming!

So, it feels little weird ... but good-weird! ... to be writing a "Famous Last Words" post here during Week 0, but I learned my lesson last semester: what with the hectic start of the semester AND having to go see my dad during Week 3 / Week 4, I really had to get ahead now, or else I would be playing catch-up for the rest of the semester (as I learned the hard way last semester). Plus, this whole 100-word thing, label: Tiny Stories,  is really clicking for me. These are definitely NOT the best 100-word stories, but it is still good practice for me, and I am sure the stories will turn out to be useful in other ways too, like as fun background to include in the announcements posts and so on.

Anyway, here's what I did as I got into the Ramayana reading for Week 3: I started reading Arshia Sattar's translation of the Uttara Kanda, and what a perfect choice that is! The Uttara Kanda does not get the attention it deserves (for example, the new ACK Ramayana just leaves it out!), but I feel really lucky that the very first Ramayana I ever read was the one by William Buck, and for all the criticisms people might make of Buck's book, I really like the way he took all the Ravana backstory from the Uttara Kanda and put it right there at the start of his Ramayana. I don't know if I will ever do my own Ramayana to put into the public domain (maybe a Ramayana made up all of 100-word stories...?), but if I do, I think I want to follow Buck's approach. Sattar makes such a good case for the Uttara Kanda being the "answer" to the questions left unanswered in earlier books, so why not just put those answers there from the start...? Sattar even calls it: The Book of Answers!

book cover of Sattar's Uttara Kanda

At the same time, it felt kind of weird to be reading just the Uttara Kanda, so Id ecided to read the ACK Ramayana, the 6-volume comic book series that came out last year (I think it was last year?):

book cover of ACK Bala Kand

So, between working on those two books, I will have plenty of great stuff to read for Weeks 4 and 5 (and then I'll pick up the Ramayana reading again later in the semester), and I'm really not sure now what to do for the Mahabharata... maybe I'll read Amrtua Patil's gorgeous Adi Parva and Sauptika Parva books...?

There's still time to figure that out of course. Meanwhile, I am super-happy with this combination of Uttara Kanda and the ACK comic books... and if the next couple of weeks gobble up all my time the way the start of the semester often does, well, that's okay: I am very eager (VERY EAGER) to get back into this reading as soon as things get normal again, with time for reading and stories. 

Here's what Week 4 looks like in my spreadsheet... and I'm really okay to wait until then if need be. What a relief........ :-)

Story: Ramayana Bala Kand

I'm experimenting with these "micro" stories this semester, so what I did as I read the opening part of the Ramayana was to look for the parts that could work as "tiny stories" just 100 words long. These are the tiny stories I came up with:

The First Verse

Two cranes, devoted to one another, lived by a river near the sage Valmiki's hermitage.
One day as Valmiki watched the couple mating, a hunter shot an arrow from the bushes. One of the cranes fell to the ground, dead, and his mate screamed in grief as she gazed at his blood-spattered corpse.
In anger and sorrow for the birds, Valmiki cursed the hunter in verse:
O Hunter, because you killed one of these birds
In the midst of their love, you will be infamous forever.
This was the first poem in the world, and Valmiki was the first poet.

In addition to being the first poet in the world, Valmiki also composed the first version of the Ramayana. Here is a link to the Sanskrit of the verses that Valmiki spoke to the hunter; there's even audio you can listen to.

Rama, Son of Dasharatha

As King Dasharatha of Ayodhya conducted a sacrifice in order to obtain a son, the devas beseeched Vishnu in heaven. 
"The lord of the rakshasas, Ravana, persecutes us," they cried, "and he torments the earth."
Brahma explained how Ravana won protection from devas, asuras, rakshasas, yakshas, and gandharvas. "But in his arrogance," Brahma added, "he did not request protection from humans."
The gods then made their request. "We beg you, Preserver-of-the-Universe: take birth as Dasharatha's son in order to save the world from Ravana."
Vishnu agreed, and thus he was born on earth as Dasharatha's son: Rama, Prince of Ayodhya.

The backstory of how Ravana got that boon of protection comes in the Uttara Kanda of the Ramayana, a book added on at the end which gives backstories for many of the main characters.

The Kheer from Heaven

As King Dasharatha completed the sacrifice, a celestial being appeared, bearing in his hands a bowl of kheer. Dasharatha gave the bowl to Kaushalya, chief among his three wives.
"We must share it," she said. So Kaushalya ate half, and gave the bowl to Sumitra.
Sumitra ate half, and gave the bowl to Kaikeyi, Dasharatha's favorite.
Kaikeyi ate half, and then gave the bowl back to Sumitra, who ate what was left.
And so Kaushalya gave birth to Rama, Kaikeyi to Bharata, and Sumitra had two sons: Lakshmana, who was devoted to Rama, and Shatrughna, who was devoted to Bharata.

You can usually find kheer, which is a sweet rice pudding, on the menu of most Indian restaurants. It is called by different names in different parts of India: kheer, payasam, firni, etc. Find out more at Wikipedia.

Baby Rama's Cosmic Form

Kaushalya left Rama in his cradle and then went to offer prayers. She was amazed to find him there, eagerly eating the burfi and other puja sweets! "How can he be both here and there?"
As she stared, Rama displayed his cosmic form: infinite beings, millions of universes contained in every part of his body. All of time, all of existence radiated from him.
Kaushalya bowed her head. "O Lord, I beg you to let me forget you have shown me here."
So Kaushalya forgot, and in obedience to his mother Rama never revealed his true form to her again.

This episode does not occur in Valmik's Ramayana, but it does appear in Tulsidas, and it such a great scene! Krishna makes a similar revelation to his foster-mother Yashoda, who sees the cosmic manifestation of Krishna when she looks inside the baby's mouth. Vishnu's cosmic form is called Vishvarupa, All-Form; learn more at Wikipedia.

Tataka's Revenge

Tataka was once a beautiful yakshini on whom Brahma bestowed the strength of a thousand elephants.
When the sage Agastya killed her husband, Tataka vowed revenge, and Agastya in turn cursed Tataka, turning her into a monstrous rakshasi. Enraged, Tataka and her sons, Maricha and Subahu, attacked every sage and defiled every sacrifice. That is why Vishvamitra brought Rama into the forest.
"You must kill Tataka and her sons!" he commanded, and Rama obeyed. Rama killed Subahu, and he killed Tataka, but Maricha escaped.
Later Maricha would take from Rama what he loved most. Could that be Tataka's final revenge?

Bibliography. Since I've already read the regular reading for class, I decided to read the new ACK Ramayana, where each of the Kandas is a book of its own (notably missing, though, is the Uttara Kanda). For this assignment, I read pp. 1-57.