Apparently, this is my first book review through a blog post. What better book to start writing book reviews than a book on the greatest epic of all time- Ramayana, the story of Lord Ramabhadra(The auspicious one).
I discovered that, reading a book from the lens of a reviewer is a totally different experience than just reading for pleasure. This way, we get many interesting insights in to why an author choose a certain method or a style of narration to tell the story. I am grateful for the author of this book for making it a pleasure to read and review this book on the Purushottama(the best among men).
About the book
Ramayana-The Game of Life brings forward the tradition of authors retelling and reinterpreting the living story of the Raghupungava(Scion of Raghakula race). The author Shubha Vilas is a self declared spiritual seeker and a motivational speaker. His teaches about the practical applications of the Bhagavad Gita; the Ramayana and Vedas in today’s world. He started this series of books on Ramayana with that intention. The first book ‘Rise of the Sun Prince’ was released in late 2013 and was widely read. The first book ended on a cheerful note with the marriage of Lord Rama and Sita Devi. After two years, the second book ominously titled ‘Shattered dreams’ was released, it tells the story of Janaki Vallabhaya(husband of Sita) getting exiled, the events leading to it and those shortly afterwards.
The first thing that comes to mind when we see a new book on Ramayana is: are the morals and ethics told through this epic still relevant? Is it possible to lead a good life by following the example of the Peetavasane(Wearing yellow attire signifying purity and wisdom) in this age and time? Does the story belonging to Tretayuga still relevant in Kaliyuga?
Shubha Vilas makes a strong case through this book, that the story of Ramayana is still relevant to our lives and that to adopt its teaching is the ideal way to lead our lives. We don’t pray to lord Ramachandra(as gentle as the moon) to get boons from him, infact in the Valmiki Ramayana there are very little miracles that lord Rama performances. So why do people feel so devoted to him?
This is because he has shown people, the ideal way to lead their lives. In fact, the whole Ramayana is an encyclopedia on how people should behave in a civilized society. Life is a too complex for people to rely just on some commandments to tell them how to behave. Only a story of epic proportions like Ramayana and Mahabharata with all their complexities can convey to people on how to behave when faced with real life dilemmas. There are mind boggling number of characters in the story, though Subhas’s book doesn’t cover all of them, it does a fairly good job at going in-depth into the mind of each character and paints a vivid picture of their thought process. The story describes how a benevolent king should look after his citizens but also shows how an ideal citizen ought to show loyalty to his king. It describes: the duty of a son to his father, the love a wife and husband should have for each other, and the mutual respect that should develop between brothers. Every major character in the epic faces certain dilemmas in life and their every action has a cause and effect told in the form of meandering but engaging anecdotes. We build and go to temples of Anantaguna(Full of virtues) to celebrate these ideals etched in Ramayana and to contemplate how far we are able to attain those ideal standards.
Ramayana The Game of Life’s main aim seems to remind the reader of the utility of practical application of this ancient wisdom to our daily lives. Through the help of copious footnotes, the author elaborates on the life lessons to be learnt from it and their practicality. For me, it did not felt like a religious book at all. By stressing more on the characters and their actions rather than writing repeated eulogies for Paratpara(Greatest of the greats), it feels more like a secular self help book employing the technique of storytelling to teach about the right thought and behaviour to readers. Though the book follows the narrative structure of Valmiki, the book contains several small interesting anecdotes which helps in explaining the state of mind of characters better and drive home some through provoking insights.
Though the book is centrally about Kausaleya(Kausalya’s son), I felt that the central character in the book is Bharata, one of the three younger brothers of Rama. Many find that the sacrifice of Bharata is even greater than that of Rama. After Bharata’s mother Kaikeyi succeeds in getting Rama exiled, to uphold the promise of his father Rama agrees to leave his beloved Kingdom and go to forests. When Bharata comes to know of what his mother had done, he does not feel elated upon the opportunity of becoming the King of Ayodhya, instead he develops disgust towards his mother and becomes deeply depressive about the turn of the events, Eventually Bharata reconciles with the ill happenings after heeding to Rama’s passionate counselling and installs Rama’s padaraksha on the throne and governs the kingdom under his name. Life has tested Bharata with all kinds of treacherous circumstances but he upheld his dharma through thick and thin diligently. I am glad that a major portion of the book dwells in to the intricate details about the different states of mind of Bharata and fully explains his grief, his sacrifices and his profound sense of duty.
The book is divided into 9 chapters apart from an author’s note. The pace of narration is crisp, except some long footnotes rest of the book is highly readable. There is nothing much to criticise as it is a faithful rendition of Valmiki Ramayana. But i found some things out of place with the rest of the book. For example, the author keeps calling the chief of the council of ministers of Ayodhya as Big-M, is that supposed to be funny or trendy? I felt that he was imitating the mythology-is-dope style of Amish Tripathi(Shiva Trilogy), but the rest of the story is rather solemn. I think he just tried too much to connect with the young audience. With footnotes making almost half the words in the book, you cannot expect anyone to read the book as a novel, so better stick to a chosen style rather than presenting the book in a potpourri of styles, hoping to get approval from all kinds of readers. You cannot hope to portray Vratadharaya( One who is Practising Penance) smoking weed as Amish did with Shiva so it is more accurate and also effective to tell his story in a sober style.
However, a little heads up for readers: the story of this book concerns probably the most saddest and emotionally charged parts of Ramayana-Rajendra(king of kings) getting exiled to the forests on the day of his supposed coronation. So the book might seem gloomy. Again, that is also an advantage as among the gloom we see characters that stoically face the reality with courage and their ability to be selfless even in the face of worst circumstances moves the readers to tears. Our true colours come out in to the open when we are at our most lowest. Even in this darkest period of the their lives, the characters of Lord Rama, Sita, Lakshmana, Bharata do not succumb to the vagaries of fate, instead they uphold Dharma and ultimately win at the “Game of life”.
My final verdict: This book is not for serious study of Ramayana nor is it a bedtime book for children. This book is most helpful for those looking for self help books to guide their lives through this turbulent world. A shudh desi vegetarian soup for the soul, if you will! If there is only one rule we should try to follow in life, it would be- Be like Rama!
P.S: Thank you blogadda and Shubha Vilas for providing me an awesome free copy for reviewing. And if you are wondering what those bold words popping up, one in each paragraph mean-they are some of the 108 names of Lord Sri Rama.