Book Reviews

Soulful Music of Ramayana Poems in English

Ramayana & Other Poems | Dr Srilakshmi Adhyapak |
Cover design: Shashikant Narsale | Alethia Publishing, Pune, 2012
| ISBN 978-81-920433-2-6 | pp 76/ Rs 130
[Republished by Partridge, 28-Oct-2013 |
ISBN 1482812401, 9781482812404 | pp 74]

All-time classics and epics like the Ramayana and the Mahabharata hold an everlasting appeal which is why they get continually read, republished, reinterpreted and re-critiqued from time to time. Coming to the book in hand whose major portion is the Ramayana story, this epic has had a wide and deep influence on the Indian psyche. A large number of translations, versions, movies and telefilms have come up showcasing this epic theme but one should always owe the unfading spell to its first creator, sage Valmiki.

The festivals of Sri Rama Navami and Ram Lila are celebrated with piety and fervour across India and even abroad. Perhaps there is no region in India which doesn’t claim the footprints of the Ramayana characters and hardly any village without a Rama/Hanuman temple; and innumerable places and people are named after the Ramayana characters like Rama, Sita, Lakshmana and Hanuman. And there is an appetising Sanskrit sloka (Aadou Rama tapovanaadi gamanam...) encapsulating the plot of the epic. Overseas, the Ramayana culture is the pride of Indonesia; and the island nation of Sri Lanka is noted for its highly popular Ramayana Tour.

Even in the modern times there are many souls dedicated to promotion of the Ramayana literature.  A reputed Telugu movie singer, MS Rama Rao (1921-1992), moved away from his two-decade career in the tinsel world and composed his own Telugu lyrics of the Sundara Kanda of Ramayana, tuned them himself and went on to sing them all over the Telugu land at almost every temple, with a phenomenal acclaim and success. He is gone but his rendering is still relayed on radio channels and at many temples on a regular basis.

It does demand a great deal of devotion, grit and courage to work and write on the epic themes especially in the ‘liberal/progressive’ India of ‘scientific enquiry’ where it’s an easy fashion to denounce anything essentially rooted in the quintessence of Indian culture. And Dr Srilakshmi Adhyapak has the positive qualities aplenty – she is not only well-versed in the Indian epics and devoted but also a leading cardiologist working as Associate Professor at the St. John’s Medical College Hospital, Bengaluru. Needless to add that she has a deep understanding of English literature and is endowed with a creative élan and a narrative poise.

Now let’s digress a while to look at the fashionable trend of thrashing everything that is immaculately Indian.


Just as good and evil are like light and its shadow, there have been attempts to distort, pervert, disgrace and blaspheme the epics and several other classics each in their own way in subservience to their ulterior ideological moorings. They have tried, and are still trying, their best to use the epic against itself though the epic hasn’t taken any stand in favour of or against any particular group of people as such but has only portrayed the situation of the times underlain with nuances of universal moral fibre and humanitarianism across the board. And, paradoxically, this in a milieu where copyright and patent compliances are insisted on and where abuse and plagiarism of any original creation are legally punishable – even as some lucky guys go scot-free! Just before the recent Lok Sabha elections, we were witness to the fracas kicked up on a Facebook post. When Priyanka Sharma, a woman BJP leader of West Bengal shared a morphed image of Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, she was arrested by the police and hauled to the court.

Yet a particular class of intellectuals, writers and artists claim unbridled licence to distort, defame and sully the Ramayana as obscurantist and anti-progressive. Their prejudiced, negative, jaundiced, sectarian and centrifugal stand of viewing and judging the hoary past through the minute and fractured lens of their ideological rut prevents them from acknowledging anything in the epic as holistic, sublime and elevating.

However great a classic may be, there would always be people who choose to view it in a different light altogether. And this is not something to be faulted but only the spleen and ire with which they do it and their flat refusal to see anything positive in the epic. Far from it. The fury against the Ramayana is so deep among the anti-Indian culture brigade that a Marxist-feminist writer Ranganayakamma came up with her Ramayana Visha Vruksham (The Poisonous Tree of Ramayana) in antagonism to the 6-volume, 2360-page mega Telugu poetic work – Srimad Ramayana Kalpa Vriksham (Wish-fulfilling Tree of Ramayana) a Jnan Pith-winner of Kavi Samrat Viswanadha Satyanarayana whose literary output is the largest and most varied in the literary history of the world.

And very recently I came across an Assamese story, in its English translation, where the writer shockingly injects all the libidinous and promiscuous proclivities of the present day ultra-modern-liberal woman, into Sita! Why resort to this vicarious sadism instead of flaunting themselves in the images they daydream to be? If they don’t like the Ramayana but itch to delight in castigating everything in it, why don’t these know-all and bash-all carpers get together with their creativity and produce a magnum opus of their own with the same magnitude as of the original epic and reflect their own radical ideals and values but not by copying or parodying in any way the plot, canvas, situations and characters of the original? The answer is obvious. It’s unfortunate that with their blatant indiscretions these professional bashers are only playing into the hands of the divide-and-rule tactics of our earlier foreign enslavers.

And a welcome trend has begun to set in with the monopolistic and manufactured voices of perversion crumbling under their own weight of oecophobic cum xenophilic propensities, intellectual unilateralism, intolerance and arrogance yielding place to the indigenous voices they have hitherto mocked, suppressed and ostracised. After all, a country with a hoary and rich cultural legacy with intrinsic merit, targeted by many a hostile force for too long, is bound to witness its own renaissance. And works like the present Ramayana & Other Poems have their role in paving the way for this healthy national resurgence. And it’s the bounden duty of every Indian to try their best to preserve, promote and evolve their own culture for every geo-national entity has its own natural culture, without of course being xenophobic at the same time. It’s a big world where each one can learn from the other After all, if you protect your own culture, the culture in turn will protect you. Dharmo rakshati rakshitah.

Viewed in the above light, Dr Srilakshmi Adhyapak possesses a positive approach and is convinced of the perennial value of the epic to the humanity. People who can’t afford to read the entire Ramayana tome in all its details and yet to want to have a meaningful and epitomic peep into the story would find her ‘Ramayana Poems...’ fulfil their urge. The author, a cardiologist, has succeeded in projecting the core of the epic’s heart through her poems.

And the blurb states: “Her deep interest lies in Indian mythology and creative writing, which she has excellently used to create this craft of poetry.

In addition to the 21 poems narrating the Ramayana saga, we have a bonus of 9 other poems, (while in the Partridge edition the others are 17).

As I was sailing through the leaves of the dainty book, I was taken in by the melody, diction, and expressiveness resonating in the poems which bear the author’s own distinct mark of poetic syntax. Now let’s sample a few of the verses.

Winds blew down from ranges lofty,
Bearing icy tentacles, frosty.
Rushing across plains vast,
Threading wisps into a fabric of the past.

Richly exuberant in its weft and weave,
A tapestry golden, through a mystic sieve.
An era hoary, whence values instilled,
Molten steel into all beings distilled. - (The Birth, p 10)

How smooth and elegant are the above lines!

Sita’s father Dasaratha convenes an assembly of suitors and the one who successfully braces the Shiva bow will have dame luck’s smile on him. See how the poet imparts a sacred and surrealistic touch to the divine bow –

A bow magnificent in the centre lay,
The cosmic dance of the divine in it played. - (The Cosmic Union, p 14)

Honouring the demand of his stepmother Kaikeyi that her own son Bharata be coronated in place of Rama the heir apparent, the latter accompanied by his consort Sita and brother Lakshmana, retires to the forests. Feast on the beauty of the sylvan environs of the forest terrain, as captured by the poet –

Into forest depths, cryptic and dark,
Patches of sunshine, lacy designs mark.
Creepers in long tendrils cling,
To tree trunks massive, as rivulets between them sing. - (Fate’s Eventful Play, p 20)

As we sing out these lyrics, their dulcet rhymes play on the strings of our hearts. The Foreword by S Govindaraj (a dexterous wood artist) rightly observes: “This collection is special because of its authenticity to source and the use of rhyme in English poetry. The poems describing the plight of the Lord in Prince Indrajit’s serpentine missile coils is especially moving.

The poetic structure employed in the selection is vers libre quatrain with AABB end-rhyme scheme, and the rhyme-types used by the poet are many – slant, eye, light, masculine, near, oblique, wrenched etc. Unrhymed exceptions are hardly a few. And without exceptions the poems have their grace and euphony.

During his odyssey across the wild forests, Rama encounters many a character – Shabari, Ahalya, Guha, Ketavat, Jatayu et al – standing blessed by him. He helps Sugriva regain his kingdom and wife usurped by his elder brother Vali, but Sugriva, lost in the midst of the newfound pleasure, loses sight of his promise of deploying his forces to trace Sita, abducted by Ravana. The poet captures the situation with sweet succinctness –

Times elapsed in pleasures ephemeral,
Purpose drowned in indulgence spectral.
The lord’s brother in fury rose,
To wake the simian king from sensuous repose. - (Vali and Sugreev, p 28)

Notice how the poems flow on with the grace of an engaging ballad.

Finally, the simian hero Hanuman, the sun of Wind, is sent on the task of locating Rama’s kidnapped spouse, but he is too proverbially humble to know his own invincible strength. The poet draws him up as in the following lines –

Humbly unaware of his prowess potent,
His devotee remarkable, of divine intent,
When reminded, his energy dormant bloomed,
Growing in size, his large shadow loomed. - (The Divine Quest, p 30)

And Hanuman outmanoeuvring many a mighty obstacle on his way to Lanka, ultimately succeeds in tracing the pining Sita –

Pristine, frail, chanting the lord’s glory,
Surrounded by ogresses hideous and gory,
A lone lotus divinely pure,
Amidst waters murky impure. - (The Divine Quest, p 32)

The Ramayana, like any other epic, courses through a maze of characters but here in her book, the poet Srilakshmi doesn’t mention any of them by name in her verses. Only some four names figure but even they too are confined only to the titles of the chapters – ‘Bharath’ (p 18), ‘Vali and Sugreev’ (p 27), and ‘Indrajit’ (p 48). And the protagonist is referred to just as ‘lord’ and not as ‘Rama’ anywhere. This highlights the relative priority of the vital sequence of events and the emotional accoutrements in the creative mind of the poet.

Other Poems

The other poems are varied and some have an esoteric resonance through them,” comments S Govindaraj in the Foreword and we agree with him.

The ‘other poems’ in the Alethia edition are 9 in number – mostly hovering around nature and a few with spiritual insights – both with an underlying broad message to the humanity for its harmonious existence. The titles are: A Cool Interlude; OM; Parrots in the Mango Tree; The Call of Spring; The Churning; The Earthen Urn; The Eastern Gale; The Horizon.

The primordial and the first divine sound of OM  emanating from the rattling drum of Lord Shiva is, according to the Indian lore, believed to have sparked off all the syllables the language was to be made of. The series of syllabic-phonetic formulations so echoed are called Maheshwara Sutras – the laws of Shiva, as recorded by Panini the earliest known foremost Sanskrit grammarian. And Srilakshmi has a poem titled ‘OM’ on the ‘Tri syllabic, cryptic’ [Aum].
Nature enthrals anyone, more so a person with an aesthetic and sensitive heart. Now witness the magic of nature in the poet’s ink –

Pathways carpeted with fragrant lavender,
Winding ‘neath the blue canopy tender.
Everything so utterly transformed
By the sweeping wave of nature’s wand. - (The Call of Spring, p 63)

Hasn’t the above verse cast a spell of serene awe on you?!

The poet has an eye and heart for even an otherwise humdrum product from the potter’s hand, and it stimulates her to weave a succinctly evocative and exquisite poem with a spirit of interrelating the microcosm with the macrocosm –

The potter’s wheel traces circles rhythmic,
Beams wooden, blurred in swirls cosmic.
Wet earth into forms moulded,
Raw earth and water into beauty blended.

Winds flute through pores evanescent,
Trial of fire strengthens spirit nascent.
Receptacles weathered by elements five,
Receiving His ether, nectar of life. - (The Earthen Urn, 66)

In a nutshell, the portion of the Ramayana poems in the collection by Dr Srilakshmi Adhyapak are a kind of micro-Ramayana like a huge mountain captured in a tiny mirror. With effective & impacting expression, apt diction and lyrical grace the poems deserve to be chanted every now and then and they are sure to lull you with a soulful music. Last but not the least, the cover design by Shashikant Narsale is symbolic of the story and pleasing to the eye. Kudos to Srilakshmi and hope to see many more salubrious creations from her unique stylus.


More by :  U Atreya Sarma

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Views: 3387      Comments: 2

Comment Thank you, Vanaja garu. Depending upon the time, I will try my best.

AtreyaSarma U
23-Sep-2019 23:53 PM

Comment Sir ,

Your commentary on Soulful Music of Ramayana by Dr .Srilakshmi Adhyapak is too good . Hope you continue to give the commentary for other works also .

Thanks .


21-Sep-2019 21:01 PM

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