Reviews of King of Ayodhya (2006)
Review by kanjisheik (2007-04-29)
One thing I love about Ashok Banker's Ramayana series is the way each part is better than the preceding one. As a result, there is no disappointment for the reader. This pattern continues in King of Ayodhya, which is undoubtedly the best book of the series.
In King of Ayodhya, Ravana commands Varuna, the god of the sea, to destroy Rama's armies in response to Hanuman's devastation of Lanka. Varuna's tsunami and the consequential death toll enrages Rama and he uses his brahman shakti against the god. Varuna placates Rama by offering his services to create a natural bridge of greybacks [whales] for the armies of vanars and bears to cross the ocean and reach Lanka.
But Ravana's awe-inspiring feats of sorcery- changing the very topography of Lanka as well as creating an entire race of rakshasas- exterminates vanars and bears by the thousands. Vibhisena is banished from Lanka, and joins Rama in the struggle against Ravana's adharma. Rama finally uses his brahman shakti and wreaks havoc on the rakshasa hordes with the Bow of Vishnu and the Arrow of Brahma. All this leads ultimately to the showdown between Rama and Ravana.
Banker is verily a gifted writer: we can feel the emotions of the characters, as if we were them. This is what makes this Ramayana series so much more fascinating than the traditional versions of the Ramayana. The war is not glorified- it is depicted in its entirety. It is the only means to get Sita back, and so Rama has to do it. The pain, the sadness, the rage, the jubiliation of victory, the horror of dying- everything seems so right, when we read them.
Banker has created the action packed war scenes brilliantly. There is a lot of blood and gore, in fact, the names of the Kaands [The Book of Skulls, The Forever War] might give you an idea how graphic it is. Hanuman impresses with his fighting skills, as usual. The battle sequences are described from several characters' points of view: Hanuman, Jambavan, Sugreeva, Nala, Angad, Mandaradevi, Kambunara are some of the prominent warriors. And Garuda's appearnce is sensational.
And the perspective from Lanka is equally impressive. Ravana's mindgames with Sita, Supanakha's feelings, Mandodhari's futile rants- all are dealt with so realistically that it is as if we are in the story itself!!! The ending may seem a bit of an anticlimax,and several questions are left unanswered. The agniparikshan scene was portrayed elegantly.
Valmiki's ancient poem is not a conflict between "absolute good" and "absolute evil", though it may seem so at a cursory glance. Rama, the champion of dharma, committed shameful deeds like the murder of Vaali and the banishment of Sita. While Ravana, who might seem to be utterly evil, is actually a great king; one who did a lot of good to the world, before he strayed away from the path of dharma. It is to Banker's credit that he has succeeded in portraying the subtle shades of this immortal epic in a series spanning 6 books.
To conclude, I must say that I had found Bridge of Rama brilliant, but compared to King of Ayodhya, its nothing. King of Ayodhya is that good! This is one of the most un-putdownable books I've ever read. Definitely 10 on 10!
An epic has ended. And another will begin. I'll wait with a lot of expectations for Banker's retelling of that other Indian epic, the Mahabharata.