Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...

Saturday, 12 February 2011

Rama and Sita

Today here is some treasure for your viewing pleasure. I'm very pleased with the scans as the capture the fragile, tactile qualities of these salvaged pages. In exchange for some meagre pennies I bought this illustrated copy of Rama and Sita from a book market in Bucharest, Romania. Forgotten and unloved for over a year I discovered it again in a red suitcase and decided finally to bring the woodcuts to light. I have a passion for prints but no money with which to satisfy it. So, for the moment, ripping reproduction woodcuts out of crumbling books shall suffice. These are stunning, mytho-poetic journeys in to a Hindu story of love and its obstacles. I found a short version of the story online and have decided to include it.

This is a story about Prince Rama, the great warrior, who was married to the beautiful Sita. Rama and Sita were really gods in human form.

Prince Rama meant to take over the throne from his father the king, but his wicked stepmother had tricked his father into sending him away into the forest. With him went his wife, Sita. Rama had begged Sita to stay safely in the palace while he stayed in the forest, but she declared it was a thousand times better to be in the forest with Rama than in the richest palace without him.

So Rama and Sita went to live in the forest together. They lived a simple, peaceful life in a small cottage.

But, before long, their peace was disturbed. One day, Sita was spotted by the demon king, Ravana. Of all the demons who lived in the forest, Ravana was the most terrible. He had twenty arms and ten heads, with eyes as red as coal fires and a mouthful of yellow fangs. When Ravana saw the beautiful Sita, he immediately came up with a plan to kidnap her and make her his wife.

One day, when Rama and Sita were walking in the forest, they saw the most beautiful deer you can imagine. Its golden hide was as bright as the sun, its silver antlers as bright as the moon, its hooves shone as black as night, and its eyes were as blue as sapphires.

So delighted was Sita when she saw the deer that she begged Rama to catch it for her. Rama was worried that this was some demon trick to try and split them up, but Sita pleaded with Rama, until he agreed to try and catch the deer for her.

As soon as Sita was alone, the demon Ravana swooped down and swept Sita up into his chariot pulled by winged monsters. Despite her terror Sita thought quickly and scattered her jewellery piece by piece - first her golden anklets, then her earrings, then her glittering scarf - as a trail for Rama to follow. Far below a white monkey looked up and, seeing the glittering jewellery, thought the stars were falling.

In the midst of the forest, Rama tracked down the beautiful deer. But when he caught hold of it, the deer changed into a terrible demon that broke away from Rama’s grasp and flew into the sky. Realising that he had been tricked, Prince Rama ran back to the cottage as fast as he could, his heart filled with dread. Finding Sita gone, he searched frantically until he came upon the trail of jewellery that Sita had left.

Rama followed this golden trail until he met Hanuman, the white monkey, who had seen Sita's jewellery fall from the sky. Hanuman was a very special monkey because he was the monkey king. Hanuman took Rama to the monkey city, that lay under the hills in a giant cave. All the monkeys of the city were called to the marble square in the centre of the city, and messages were sent out to monkeys all over the world. They came in their millions from the woods and caves, and with them came their friends the bears. Twenty-three million animals filled the city and covered the hills like a great shaggy sea. After they had heard what had happened, they spread out to search the world for Sita.

It was the monkey, Hanuman, who came to the island where Sita was being held prisoner. The monkeys and bears with him stared in despair at the giant crashing waves that surrounded the island, but Hanuman, the son of the wind god, climbed to the highest hill, took a mighty breath and leapt into the clouds, and over the crashing waves. He landed on the island and quickly found Sita in a grove of trees near the palace. There she sat refusing to marry the evil Ravana.

Sita was overjoyed when she found out who Hanuman was and she gave him a pearl from her hair to take to Rama. Then, Hanuman bounded away to fetch Rama and Lakshmana, and the great army of monkeys and bears.

But still the giant ocean waves kept Rama and his army away from the island. And so the army began to build a bridge of rocks and grass and sand.

The squirrels came running out of the woods to help, every animal - large and small - contributed to the building, and soon the bridge stretched a hundred miles to the island, and the animals poured across their bridge.

Long and terrible was the battle, as the animals fought the evil demons. Many great deeds were done, until at last Rama faced the demon Ravana on the battlefield. With his arrows Rama struck again and again at the heads of Ravana but, each time he chopped one off, a new one grew.

Then Rama took up his special bow and arrow that had been made by the sky god. He chanted a special prayer and shot. The gods of wind and fire flew guided the arrow and it pierced Ravana's chest in a blinding flash. Ravana fell dead in an instant.

All the world rejoiced. The reign of the demons was over and Rama and Sita returned to their own country to rule. In celebration, the gods showered flowers from the sky, and the people lined the streets with flags and garlands. In every home, an oil lamp was put in the window to welcome back the Rama and Sita and their great army. The royal ruled happily for many years until it was time for them to leave their life on earth and return to heaven.

The greatest mystery about this book which I found in Romania is its introduction and footnotes in Russian and the story in English. It is a strange compilation of unexplained origins and sources, perhaps it is a Russian schoolbook for learning English, I think? But then why the Hindu story? And how did it find its way to this market stall in Romania!? Now, on the next stage of its journey, disembodied prints find themselves framed on my bedroom walls in England.

1 comment:

  1. good a revised version of ramayan...I am indian and grown up listening to ramayan...We get lot to learn in ramayan. And I am amazed that this story is stated in books of romania....amazed with its popularity world wide....By the way Prince Ram on his 14 years of journey kept wandering in jungles of indonesia,india and sri lanka...we here in India worship Ram