02 March, 2021

One Man’s Many Lives In A God-Like Unknowing

Rama is shadowed by many deviations from the Valmiki Ramayana. This book reclaims his complex humanity.

One Man’s Many Lives In A God-Like Unknowing

What new insights into Rama’s actions and thoughts do we gain if we forget, as he himself forgot most of the time, that he is a god? This is the fruitful premise of Arshia Sattar’s profound and wise new book. She brings out important aspects of the Valmiki Ramayana that others have managed to overlook, partly because they have been blinkered by the heavily censored reading of the Ramayana that contemporary political factions broadcast everywhere. Sattar is steeped in the Ramayana (hers is by far the best single-volume English translation) and has the gift of noticing things that the rest of us tend to miss.

The great value that Hindus place on the most ancient, “original” texts has given Valmiki’s Sanskrit Ramayana a special status. When citing a particular detail of the story, people will say, “It’s in Valmiki”. Yet, since not everyone in India reads Sanskrit, other versions of the Ramayana are the ones that most people in India actually know—Tulsidas’s 16th century Awadhi...

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