Sita greeted the stranger and brought water and food for the old man to eat, as was the custom. Her graciousness was not returned in kind, for the moment she stepped out of the protective circle, the man transformed into the demon king. Sita froze at the sight of Ravana’s ten horrible heads. The demon snatched up the princess and sped away on his chariot.
As a reward for his great austerities over many eons, Ravana has been transformed by the creator into the most powerful being on earth. With his demon armies he now wages an unending war on earth and heaven. But Lord Vishnu has discovered the loophole in Brahma’s boon, and has become the mortal prince Rama, the only being capable of defeating the demon king.
As a man, Rama is vulnerable to the scheming manipulations of wicked men and women. Once the heir to the throne of Ayodhya, Rama has since been exiled for fourteen years with his devoted wife Sita and brother Laksman. And now Ravana himself has kidnapped Sita from their humble forest dwelling. Without a kingdom of his own, Rama and Laksman appeal to the vanars of Kishkindha, including a young warrior named Hanuman, to aid in the search for Sita and the inevitable confrontation with Ravana.
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I love stories, and many different kinds of stories. Of all the stories I love, though, the Ramayana ranks somewhere in the top two or three. It’s a tale that unfortunately not too many Americans are familiar with. As one of India’s great epics, the Ramayana continues to hold tremendous interest and significance for millions of people today, in a way that not even the Iliad and the Odyssey of western tradition can compare with.
Rather than ranting about all the things I love about the Ramayana, though, I want to highlight an illustrated retelling of the story that is perhaps more accessible than some other versions. Ramayana: Divine Loophole has been created by Sanjay Patel, an artist who, despite a strong aversion to reading, has also been moved by this great epic. This is largely a picture book, with Patel’s colorful illustrations dominating each page spread. Still, there is also a notable amount of text, in which the major events of the Ramyana are conveyed in a conversational tone and in surprising detail.
You maybe won’t grasp the full majesty of the Ramayana in this abbreviated retelling, but it may be an easy enough introduction to the characters and plot that you might begin to see why this story has such great appeal for so many people throughout the world, including me. You might be charmed enough to look into other versions of the story.
My grade: A-