Rama and Sita

You know it’s just been divali, the celebration of when Rama and Sita finally returned, greeted with lines of lights on the road.

I didn’t have it, but Rama and the Demon King is the kind of book I needed this week. Something that told the tale simply and boldly, with big bold pictures:

This is the story of a brave and good prince called Rama, the King’s favourite son. He had a dear wife called Sita, and a loyal brother Lakshman…

I needed a version that would let the story stand as the world-shaping myth that it is, a tale of courage and patience, passion, loss and reunion.

I had a cartoon version on DVD with very clunky minimal animation and heavily inflected clunky and unfamiliar English (“He walked thrice round the entire immense rakshasa”, that kind of thing). This really didn’t do justice to the story, though in the event I used it with the sound off, as I couldn’t find a proper alternative.

Although I’m immensely impressed by it, and have watched entire parts of it thrice, I couldn’t, with children, of course, watch Sita Sings the Blues.

You can watch the whole thing in bits there. Entire immense thing here also.

It’s a very of-our-age kind of retelling, a collage of different styles and personal perspectives, “The Greatest Breakup Story Ever Told”, and includes the creator Nina Paley‘s own break up experience.  (There’s been controversy, naturally, as the film deviates… no, questions… the tradional expressions of the myth. There were also big copyright issues. Refer to wikipedia for the entire interesting details.)

: – ( o ) – : – ) o ( – : – ( o ) – : – ) o ( – : – ( o ) – : – ) o ( – : – ( o ) – : – ) o ( – :

Traditional storytellers (Chitrakathis) used to travel from village to village; among the stories they told was of course the Ramayana. The wonderful Mahashtrian folk art they used survives, such as this example from an eighteenth century artist:

Immediately, Ravana, who had been waiting for Sita to be alone, assumed the form of an old hermit and appeared at the gate, carrying a staff and a begging bowl. Sita rose and greeted him with reverence and fetched water for him to drink. She begged him to rest a while, glad for the company of the holy man. She told him who she was and why she lived in this forest retreat. Ravana watched her with ever-mounting wonder and unable to control himself any further broke into her narrative. “I am no rishi, lovely one, but Ravana, King of Lanka. Your beauty has enslaved me and I cannot rest until I have you as my queen…”

(Hear Sally Pomme-Clayton tell this part of the tale here.)

Of course there are many wonderful illustrations of the myth. I’ve just come across Joanna Troughton’s fantastic shadow pictures for a book that is sadly no longer available:

Also out of print, also shadow inspired is the wonderful Rama and Sita: A Tale From Ancient Java by David Weitzman:

A few years back there was an exhibition of miniatures at the British Library (reviewed here in the Guardian). The BL also has a synopsis of the tale.

The Metropolitan Museum also has lots of Ramayana inspired work:

With so many artistic traditions to call from, there is space for many retellings. One of them I’m looking forward to reading is Sita’s Ramayana, a graphic novel by Samhita Arni & Moyna Chitrakar, published by the wonderful Tara Books. The illustrations have been done by Patua artist Moyna Chitrakar, based in Nirbhaypur village in West Bengal. Patua is a style of art native to West Bengal, where handmade paper pasted on a cloth scroll, is painted with vegetable and mineral dyes.

There are a lot more beautiful versions than you need really. Here’s an illustration by Véronique Joffre of the book

La grande légende de Rama et Sita:

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