Retelling the Ramayana — voices from Kerala

Oxford University Press has done a yeoman service by bringing out a translation of the Ramayana, a Kerala version written by C.N. Sreekantan Nair and Sarah Joseph.

Vasanthi Sankaranarayanan has translated the original in Malayalam to English. C.N. Sreekantan Nair's award-winning play Kanchana Sita is the first of a dramatic trilogy based on the Ramayana. It is a questioning of Rama's dharma from diverse, yet converging, points of view.

It is also about the tragedy of power, the search for which only leads to solitude and destruction. Nair looks deep into the continuing conflict between love and violence, between living in harmony with nature and striving to `conquer' it by force.

Sarah Joseph's Ramayana Stories are based on different episodes of the Ramayana in which she raises the questions of justice and injustice, war and peace, and the relationship between love and power, which is the central theme of the epic. There is an erudite foreword by Satchidanandan, who has analysed the works of Sreekantan Nair and Sarah Joseph. These are contrasting voices, which showcase the sophisticated cultural diversity of Kerala.

Nair's play Kanchana Sita is about the tragedy of power and the sacrifices that adherence to dharma demands, including abandoning a chaste wife. Sarah Joseph's work questions and critiques the traditional narratives of women humiliated and torn apart by ambitious men. Both Nair and Joseph bring out the political aspects of these stories through the dialectics between the victor and the vanquished, man and woman, tribal and city dweller, Aryan and Dravidian.

The volume looks at the exemplary ethical deity, Rama, from a woman's point of view, immensely readable.

Dr. M. Leelavathy, critic and author, who released the English translation of `Retelling Ramayana,' remarked that Oxford University Press translation will help readers worldwide to understand the writings of Malayalam authors.

The first copy was received by the co-author Sarah Joseph.


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