Book Review: Shri Ram by Sanat Malhotra

Publisher: Walnut Publication

Shri Ram by Sanat Malhotra, recounts one of the oldest and most beloved epics of Indian mythology in a style brimming with whimsy and pomp. Filled with powerful gods, demons, gods incarnate as flying monkeys, magical weapons, armies of evil and divine forces, Shri Ram brings to life the saga of Rama, the prince, and his epic quest to free his kidnapped wife Sita by a demon king.

The Ramayana is the first epic of sacred literature in India and its author is considered the first and greatest of writers. From time immemorial the Ramayana has exercised a profound influence on the ideas, feelings, customs, traditions and consciousness of people, inspiring saints, poets, philosophers, and artists.

It has shaped the soul of the Indian nation over the millennia, teaching the most sublime moral and spiritual truths with beautiful stories and mythological legends, the legacy of a tradition that is lost in the mists of time. Knowledge of the Ramayana is essential to understanding the spirit of India, as its characters represent human ideals admired and emulated by all.

I had always dreamed of reading the Ramayana in a simple book, within the reach of everyone's understanding, sure, as I still am, that the beauty of the story would captivate anyone. What unfolds in between is a remarkable tale of divine reincarnations, fierce demons, powerful kings, magical weapons and amazing creatures – all woven into the extraordinary and keystone epic of good and evil, love and enmity, boons and curses, hardship and destiny.

Here are a few key takeaways from this newest rendition:

If anything justifies life, it is the law of virtue. Virtue is not just a part of a moral code. It is the basic principle that upholds the purpose of life, makes one fulfil his responsibility as a unit of society, affirms the dignity of the human being and man's dedication to the ideals of truth and justice, elevates him from all whatever is vulgar, petty, bad or unfair.

The lessons are perfectly ideal for everyone. Simple yet glorious, ordinary yet seldom followed, fundamentally human yet an agent of spiritual conversion. It is an ideal that has had a determining influence on the design of the fabric of Indian society and has always been an inspiring and emulating example for all who are loyal to it.

Colourful Panorama

This book is a gaudy panorama of hope and despair, sacred idealism and worldly delusion, sacrifice and desolation, attack of weakness and tragedy, magnanimous dedication to virtue and humble devotion, steadfastness and fortitude, triumph over evil and glory of victory.

But immediately, alas, to become embittered by a harsh and suspicious vision of a vain world, and finally, the dying decision of an ideal king to sacrifice the main object of his love and his personal happiness for the sake of public opinion, and face cruelly rigid criteria set for the throne by his beloved subjects, to whom his loyalty was first and foremost.

Only in a highly civilized society could such a moving drama take place, symbolizing in the best possible way the struggle between good and evil, right and wrong, self-sacrifice and greed, virtue and selfish consideration.

Dedicated Virtue

In the book, we find an aging king choosing to die of grief with a broken heart in order to maintain a promise, having to banish his most beloved son and deprive him of the right of succession, rather than try to justify a denial or avoid him out of personal preference or feeling.

The case of Dasharatha poignantly exemplifies that a promise must be kept once made, no matter how ambiguous its scope or radius of application, whether it was given in a moment of weakness or through mature deliberation. The promise has to be kept regardless of its consequences and cost.

Symbolic Personalities

Almost every personality has a lesson to teach. Sita symbolizes the ideal wife and Lakshmana the ideal brother just as Bharata, who rose above his mother's worldly sense of values, did not succumb to the lure of throne and power, tried as hard as he could to bring Rama back, and failing in this, chose to care for the government provisionally as an agent of Rama's slippers.

Sita renounced the comforts of the palace so that she might share her husband's lot as a submissive wife, however harsh the privations. Similarly, Lakshmana also renounced her princely life in order to serve her brother in the wasteland of her banishment. And there is also Hanuman, the symbol of ideal discipleship.

Ravana, kidnaps princess Sita. A fact that is generally overlooked regarding Ravana is that despite his despotism and lust, he preserved Sita's honour, treated her with respect, and even though he deceived and threatened her, he did not lose his head but obeyed the law governing prisoners.

Sita, for her part, exemplified the finest ideal of a woman. To her, chastity was dearer than her own life. For her, there was nothing but the memory of her husband. The temptation of fabulous riches did not take place in her pure mind.

The Perfect Man

Then we have the example of the perfect human being in Shri Rama. In devotion to truth and righteousness he was unmatched. His sense of duty was magnificent. As a prince, as a husband, as a brother, as a man, as a king, as a teacher he had no equal. He reacted in a human way to the loss of Sita.

His idealism, his willpower and sacrifice, his steadfast determination, his strength and leadership were magnificent; and yet, the spring of love and affection in his heart did not dry up. He did not seek solace in the philosophy of the evanescence of the world. He did not become a renouncer.

He did not become immune to the human dejection of him. He was expected to perform his husband's duty towards Sita. The one to look for her, find her and rescue her, with an army and fighting a war, if necessary, which he did.

Correct Perspective

Thus, we find throughout myriads of examples that correspond to every pattern of life. Some of them are explicitly simple and can be in any moral law book. Others may give rise to questions, such as, the death of Vali which, can be interpreted in a temporary sense, that is, justifying the action as a matter of convenience.

Whichever interpretation is given to it, one should never forget that the Ramayana is a human epic replete with glorious moral examples worthy of emulation, such as those that are universally acceptable and applicable. One should accept them with complete humility, with common sense and with a sober evaluation.

Ideal Government

The rule of law was a formal ideal. Though in some respects highly puritanical Rama did not lose sight of realism. He paid attention to the practical side and yet upheld some of the finer principles of individual and social ethics.

The welfare of the subjects was the chief consideration of the ruler. Nothing else mattered, not even the king's personal interests. The king's first duty was to see that the people were happy and content, that there was justice and law, that human considerations were not hampered by social distinctions, and that, above all, public opinion was allowed to exercise its full power.

It is astonishing to note that Shri Rama would have gone to such lengths of giving up his wife and banishing her to a hermitage, when she was the queen and first lady of the kingdom, and all for the sake of what we might today call symbolic opinion.

But this indicates, above all, the way in which a ruler must conform to a strict standard of living and rigid personal conduct, not only as he would consider ideal but as his subjects expect of him. Shri Rama's personal life and happiness were indeed secondary to the inflexible rules that governed his imperial life.

It is extraordinary and astonishing that such an ancient Indian kingdom should have cherished and practiced such a meticulous sense of propriety and that its rulers should have willingly submitted to it.

Keep the lessons in mind. This book is inspiring, very compelling, and a good learning text for life.

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