Book: Ravana Leela
Author: Radha Viswanath
Ravana, perhaps the most popular Rakshasa in Indian mythology, is known as the villain in the Ramayana and the epic would not have been what it is without this great Rakshasa.
Yet Ravana is much more than a mere abductor. Born out of the union of a Rishi and Rakshasi, a devout Shiv-bhakt and a mighty king, Ravana is no ordinary Rakshasa.
I received Ravana Leela as a review copy and did not really know what to expect. We, Indians, have been brought up on stories from the mythological epics -Ramayana and Mahabharata. We have also seen these historical epics portrayed in mega productions on screen. In fact in 90s, people used to stay glued to their TVs during the telecast of Ramayana & Mahabharata. So it was natural for me to be very curious when I read the premise for this book.
There are a lot of Indian-origin authors who are now writing backstories of famous mythological characters. These pieces usually tend to be either hit or miss. I have loved some while few of those have been below average!
Ravana Leela had me keen to read about a mythological villain who is hated by most but is also praised for his knowledge and devotion to Lord Shiva.
What is special about this book is that it is not just a story that looks at Ravana’s life as it pertains to what is portrayed in the Ramayana. The author, Radha Vishwanath, has researched various texts and created a story that goes back through the generations to establish Ravana’s origins.
Ravana has been known to have garnered praise for being a scholar but who among us has ever heard anything much about Kumbhakarna except for the fact that he would sleep for 6 months at a time? This book brings Kumbhakarna / Vibhishana to life and also lays focus on an otherwise infamous Soorpanakha. It makes one see them as multi-dimensional characters who have both good and bad in them, who are not relegated to just being one-dimensional secondary characters.
The author allows us to follow Ravana’s story to the bitter end where he admits defeat. By the end of the book, you feel it is okay to sympathize with Ravana because despite all his faults, “family” was the most important thing to him!
I would have given a 4-star rating to this piece but it lost that extra bit on the missing story flow at times. There are sections where the story seems to jump from one track to another and it feels disconcerting.
Despite this one drawback, Ravana Leela is an interesting story and a must-read for anyone who likes re-imagined versions of mythological stories.
On the whole I give this 3.5 stars!!