A.K. Ramanujan in his essay ‘Three Hundred Ramayanas: Five Examples and Three Thoughts on Translation’ wrote –“How many Ramayanas? Three hundred ? Three thousand ? At the end of some Ramayana, a question sometimes asked: How many Ramayana have there been? He explains later in the essay that, “The number of Ramayanas and the range of their influence in South and Southeast Asia over the past twenty‐five hundred years or more are astonishing. Just a list of languages in which the Rama story is found makes one gasp: Annamese, Balinese, Bengali, Cambodian, Chinese, Gujarati, Javanese, Kannada, Kashmiri, Khotanese, Laotian, Malaysian, Marathi, Oriya, Prakrit, Sanskrit, Santali, Sinhalese, Tamil, Telugu, Thai, Tibetan… Sanskrit alone contains some twenty‐five or more tellings belonging to various narrative genres.”
Ramayana has a greater value in Indian culture and lifestyle. The heroic and divine characters are not only worshipped but impersonated in daily life. It is the reason that many thinkers since ages have been coming with various interpretations of Ramayana, the grand narrative originally written by Valimiki. Sayantan Gupta’s book, The Flames Burnt Dark, The Tale of The Aryasura, is an approach in this tradition. He has attempted to give a different insight over the stories of Ramayana. It is a work of fiction, a retelling of stories in a scientific and humanistic way.
Being a doctor, a gynaecologist to be specific, Sayantan Gupta is thus a man of science. Therefore, his scientific approach to the epic can be felt throughout the narrative. Writers with scientific background are made of scientific values and ethics; hence, they seek every answer through science. Unlike philosophers and poets they refuse to accept anything as supernatural, when the former enjoy beauty of mystery and miracles, the latter get consciously curious to resolve the mystery through scientific experiments. He carefully transforms all the supernatural events to the acts of human beings. In this book there is no place for gods, demons and supernatural elements. There are only human beings of different races as Aryans, Rakshas, Banaras and many others.
In this book neither Rama is presented as a god nor Ravana as the king of demons nor the battle fought between ‘Dharma and Adharma’. The combat is simply a struggle initiated by greed for attaining power and honour. But at the same time the novel does not degrade Rama and glorify Ravana, it treats them as merely human beings. They are humans belonging to different races and cultures both being fallible and sensitive, both are valorous and unmatched in the battle field and they both have their own valid reasons to fight for. They fight marvellously; victory and defeat are but just a matter of chance.
The book is divided in three parts as Book-l, Book – ll and Book -lll.
Book -l is entitled ‘The Saga of Rama’, which depicts the stories of Rama, his chivalry, the grand marriages of four handsome princes, and Rama’s first encounter with Rakshashas.
Book-ll, ‘The Saga of Ravana’ is about Ravana , his childhood, his transformation as the great Rakshasha king, his marriage and best among all his being a lover. Knowing Ravana as truly in love with Vedawati is a wonderful experience which we do not get often. Usually, Ravana is hated for many reasons but we cannot resist falling in love with ‘Ravana – the Lover’.
Book –lll, ‘The Saga of Lost Hope’, is stories of war and the downfall of the great Rakshasha regime.
One of most amazing element about the book is one would not get weary with it, no matter how familiar he/ she is with the stories. Curiosity thrives higher with the scientific explanations of all those miracles retold in epic. The episodes such as Hanuman’s reaching Lanka by leaping across the ocean and the resurrection of Ahalya ‘at the touch of Rama’ seem quite interesting and innovative in Sayantan Gupta’s version. The story of Ahalya is the most captivating one. There are many captivating dialogues in this book; one best among them is when Rama assailed Bali from behind for his selfish reason.
Bali’s last words to him turned him numb and all his charms fade away before the Banara king. He says, “You have struck me down in a manner typically Aryan. Even then I respect you…
Rama my light is fading. I pardon you for your cowardly act. May you succeed in your mission “, and Lakshman remarks with tearful eyes “Brother, as of today, you have become an ordinary man!”.
At last all I can say is this book is worth reading. It gives a new angle, a new vision, to understand humanity at large, irrespective of race, caste and creed. It is more about humanizing the Rakshasha and Devas. It attempts to admire both Rama and Ravana altogether, feel pity for them and being critical to both of them. In human form they feel more alike, as god and demon they stand at a distance, someone to be worshiped or to be hated.