Wednesday, January 25, 2012

The Heart of Ramayana

Many a times, I have heard my mother mention about the greatness of Sundara Kandam in Ramayana. As a brief prelude, Ramayana - the great epic is divided into seven kandams or portions namely the Bala Kandam, Ayodhya Kandam, Aranya Kandam, Kishkinda Kandam, Sundara Kandam, Yuddha Kandam and Uttara Kandam. But it is often mentioned that even if one has not read Ramayana in entirety, reading Sundara Kandam with utmost devotion can equal reading the epic itself. Sundara Kandam is famously stated as the Heart of Ramayana.  

My mother's multiple and casual mention of the power of Sundara Kandam made me look for it on - an online book portal. The search landed me at this book - The Hidden Gems in Sundara Kandam by K. Lakshman, the original rendition of this book in Tamil by Amman Sathiyanathan. The book priced at Rs 150 on this site presents Sundara Kandam in easy to understand English with beautiful illustrations, in black and white. In this book, the heart of Ramayana is rendered in a tale like format. 

The book begins with a prologue elaborating importance of Sundara Kandam in Ramayana, why it is named so, what portion of the great epic does it span, why it is revered as the Heart of Ramayana. The author explains different versions of Ramayana he has referred to in writing this book. The next portion is the tale itself - Sundara Kandam beginning with Hanuman's crossing the sea in search of Sita, surveying Lanka, meeting Sita in Ashoka vana, setting Lanka ablaze thereafter in a bid to scare Ravana, crossing the sea again to meet Rama and convey the news - "Sighted Sita". 

The story telling is not abrupt as chosen/necessary references are taken from previous portions to complete the reader's understanding. The epilogue section sails seamlessly with brief accounts from Yuddha Kandam and Rama Pattabishekham (coronation ceremony after return from forest exile for 14 years) providing the neat end. Many important questions that hit the reader's mind during elaboration of the tale are discussed with authors' opinions and answers in the epilogue section. 

No Sanskrit verses in here, no heavy prose, this book is meant for all those who wish to do some devout reading of something godly and spiritual, not merely a one time read and definitely not a "finish in one go" book too. 

Cover of the Book

Illustration showing Sita handing over her crest jewel to Hanuman in Ashoka Vana, Lanka

Illustration showing Hanuman setting Lanka on fire, his tail ablaze

Roald Dahl: My Favorite Author

Enter the colorful, illustrious world of Roald Dahl, you emerge out of it, happy and content like a small child. During childhood days, I immersed myself into books by Enid Blyton - The Magic Faraway Tree, The Enchanted Wood, Malory Towers, Famous Five series, The Secret Seven series and Little Noddy series as well to name a few. These books, along with illustrated classics pocket series of books (titles like David Copperfield, Oliver Twist, Black Beauty, Robin Hood, Three Musketeers etc) were never laid to rest until they were completed, even at the cost of a sumptuous meal or good night's sleep. 

Years later, the same satisfaction and child-like happiness sprouts from books written by Roald Dahl. In my library lies the author's books - The Phizz Whizzing Collection and The Collected Short Stories of Roald Dahl and they are my cherished possessions. 

The Phizz Whizzing collection is a set of 15 books, heavily illustrated, largely meant for children. But wait, there is nothing stopping us grown ups from having the fun. The collected short stories of Roald Dahl is an amalgamation of his books, an omnibus containing stories from SWITCH BITCH, KISS KISS, OVER TO YOU, SOMEONE LIKE YOU and Eight Further Tales of the Unexpected. This book, though non illustrious, has spine chilling and nerve racking twist in each tale.  

My first introduction to Roald Dahl was in school, we had the story Umbrella Man in our English Textbook, I am not sure which grade though. It was a very funny story and I was glad to read it again many years later in the Collected Short Stories book. 

The world of Roald Dahl is magical, simple stories that entice people across all ages. A visit to the author's official website will lend an insight into this world - 

Trying to get back to heavy reading habit with severe intent - I have completed 10 titles of the 15 books set - Phizz Whizzing collection and two sections in the Collected Short Stories book. 

Every book in the Phizz Whizzing collection comes alive with superb illustrations by Quentin Blake. At the end of each book lies some information about Roald Dahl, information on his daily routine, his writing hut where stories used to cook and churn like magic potions, snippets of his childhood and some adventures. 
Of the 15 book series, Boy - Tales of Childhood and Going Solo are stories of Roald Dahl's personal life, not a boring autobiography but a very beautifully conceived insight into some memorable moments he experienced as a child and as an adult when serving for the RAF during Second World War times. The other titles in this collection are fun packed, smile assuring, complete in one-go stories. 

So come on, stop being a Bootboggler, pick up Roald Dahl's book before your head get Rotsome with everyday mundane routine. Do not watch Telly Telly Bunkum box , serials aired in it have Chatbags in them, nah no recreation. Put the serious fiction right into the bin, sheer Glubbage it is, savor yourself and rekindle some of those lively, happy go lucky childhood days by grabbing some Scrumdiddlyumptious books by Dahl. Wondering what all this bingo lingo means - take a plunge into this whole new world :)  

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Book Review: 7 Secrets of Vishnu

When I received this book titled - 7 Secrets of Vishnu written by Devdutta Pattanaik from Flipkart at my office, two of my colleagues questioned me what my age was and if everything was fine, why was I reading this book? Devdutta Pattanaik's books are precisely the sorts that break this notion people have on books related to Hindu Gods and Mythology - that they are meant only for the older grey haired folks and the ones in neck deep trouble. 

I came to know of the author when his book titled Jaya (an illustrated retelling of Mahabharata) made it to the top selling book brigade. There are other titles written by him - Myth=Mithya: A Handbook of Hindu Mythology, 7 Secrets of Hindu Calendar Art, 99 thoughts on Ganesha and 7 Secrets of Shiva that are immensely popular. 

7 secrets of Vishnu, as denoted by the title, is split into seven chapters - Mohini's secret, Matsya's secret, Kurma's secret, Trivikrama's secret, Ram's secret, Krishna's secret and Kalki's secret. 

The book on each page is marked by illustrations on the left hand side and written information on the right hand side. I captured a few images of the inside of the book -

Devdutta Pattanaik's 7 secrets of Vishnu is meant for all who have missed out on mythological tales, normally handed over by grandparents during one's childhood days, for all who love to know more about their favorite Gods and Goddesses. Tales of purpose and intent of each incarnation of Vishnu are discussed in very simple and easy to understand language. The font is bold and many illustrations with labels effortlessly explain the seemingly complex divine concepts. These aspects of the book broaden the audience it caters to. The book explains quite clearly many of the symbols and figures we see on temple walls and inside the sanctum etc. 

The first chapter - Mohini's secret explains mutually exclusive but quintessential spheres of material and spiritual growth. Matsya's secret tells the tale of the avatar and explains how man alone, with a larger brain has the power to imagine, empathize and exploit. Kurma's secret reveals the act of churning of ocean. Trivikrama's secret deals with tales of Varaha, Narasimha and Vamana avatars of Vishnu. 

The chapter on Ram's secret deals with understanding dharma based on one's Varna and Ashrama. Here, incarnations of Parashuram marking the end of Krita yuga, Ram marking the end of Treta Yuga, reasons behind their actions are explained in detail. 

Krishna's secret emphasizes on thought behind an action. Many complex decisions are taken by this avatar to deal with changing times of Dwapara Yuga. The book ends with Kalki's secret where incarnations like Balarama and Kalki do not take an active course of action like other Vishnu's incarnations to root out injustice and evil but recede passively, allow things to wane so that a Kalpa or world cycle is complete and a new one can begin. 

The book provides answers to why Brahma is never worshipped, explains how Hiranyaksha and Hiranyakashipu were once the gate keepers Jaya and Vijaya of Vaikunta, why Lakshmi has an owl along with her in most pictures, why Narada triggers trouble wherever he goes, how Bhagavatha Purana came into being and many other interesting questions. 

If you want to take a break from routine fiction and non-fiction related to travel/history - here is a good read. I am not rating this book on a scale of 5 or 10, I will just say, I enjoyed reading it thoroughly. The book is meant to be read slowly and details be assimilated carefully. It is not a one time read, I would love to get back to few chapters time and again to refresh some details/tales. I procured a copy of 7 secrets of Shiva by the same author, I am sure the book has many more interesting tales. 

I could not find a better day than today (Vaikunta Ekadeshi - Jan 5, 2012) to write about this book. Well written, adequately illustrated and highly informative, 7 secrets of Vishnu helps one to gain better understanding of one's faith.