The Book of Ram by Devdutt Pattanaik

Honestly, a readable book with a misleading title. This tries to describe Ram in contrast with his allies and follies, but on many occasion deviates from the context all-together. In an opening chapter “Ramayan’s Protagonist”, all what is told is a summarised Ramayan with Ram as a central figure (maybe as a primer to forthcoming stories and entries in chapters ahead)Logically, Ram is what because of the people who surrounds him, but I still found the author invariably describing them only. For example, in one of the initial chapter which reads “Dashrath’s Son”, the author ends up enlightening more about Dashrath itself whereas I presumed it to be “How Ram Fared As a Son”. And this continues to be there in the subsequent chapters too where if he picks up the title of Ram as a student, then the write-up goes more vocal about Vashistha & Vishwamitra themselves. Similarly, when defining Ram as Ravan’s enemy, one will find more inputs of Ravan only. I also understand Laxman & Hanuman are inseparables of Ram, but I don’t get the idea of giving it more space than needed putting Ram on rest in the respective chapters (given that it is small and concise book, one can’t lose pages explaining anything other than Ram or which doesn’t relates to him). The only saving grace here is Sita (in a chapter “Sita’s Husband” and elsewhere) where the character of Ram comes into its full being. Perhaps, as Sita’s chaste protects Ram everywhere, its does the same here to this book too – but with a fragmented treatment in various chapters.

Over the few places, I noticed that it has been written with an approach like “this-is-what-I-think” than “this-is-what-it-meant-to-be”. For instance, when author goes on defining the character of Ahalya, she is being presented as a promiscuous woman who mutually agrees for Indra’s sexual favor. Whereas in different version of Ramayan, she shares a sympathetic space of a woman who has been tricked to Indra’s lust. Actually, the book in a chapter tries to define the woman on the basis of fertility with an analogy of land with three main characteristics – first being the Fertile (glory and untainted womanhood of Sita), Barren but when ploughed becomes Fertile (Ahalya’s liberation with Ram’s compassion ) and Infertile (demonic Surpanakha & Tadaka). Though former and later are somewhat understandable, I slightly disagree with author’s belief about Ahalya (this is debatable too) who is poorly brought into the context to define a barren land which when treated generously can become equally fertile and productive. So was it Ram’s random divine gesture which catapults an adulteress (or was she?) into a revered space of Panchkanyas (Tara, Mandodari, Kunti & Draupadi being the rest) bringing back her dignity – I guess its not. Added to this, the relation, similarities, dissimilarities between Parashuram, Ram & Krishna also seems to be rather opinionated – though exceedingly well written.

The book strikes positive scores too. I have also read other bestselling titles (Jaya, Myth=Mythya etc.) by the same author Devdutt Pattanaik and admire his works. And this is why I went on purchasing this one too with a belief that this will enlighten me more about Ram as an individual and will bring more facts associated with him which can’t be found in one version of Ramayan (the book has a impressive bibliography of all possible versions of the epic). Another good feature about this book is its anecdotal treatment which makes an easy read and can keep the readers engrossed till the end. Both unknown & lesser known facts about Ram (I wish it was more ) and people surrounding him are produced. The author here also scholastically describes the spirit of the religious text rather than the literal aspect of it which has led to myriad misinterpretations today. And inclusion of chapters like “Valmiki’s Inspiration”  & “Hindutva’s Icon” where the content goes beyond the story within the epic & folklore is really something out of the box for the book like this.

Having said above, I’m not all disappointed by this book but the title. The book is not about Ram alone but every entity who spun the saga of Ramayan. Maybe it could have been – “People Who Made Ram – The Ram” or “Who’s Who of Ramayan”. I’d still recommend this book to those who want to read about Ram & Ramayan than Ramayan itself. Interesting and informative read indeed.

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