Monday, October 12, 2009

Even Rama gradually permitted his mind to become enthralled - a return visit to the Clay Sanskrit Library

The John Galt reading proceeds. The final pieces of the Anti-Sympathy project are falling into place. obooki extracts yet another fascinating, baffling 100 Best Novels list. But this week will be entirely miscellaneous.

The Clay Sanskrit Library has reached the end of its funding, with fifty-six voulmes in print, many never before in English. I celebrated or commiserated or whatever it was by reading another of their titles, the first volume (of eight) of The Ramayana (4th century BC, maybe). I've read the R. K. Narayan version twice, once when I was twelve or so, once as an adult. It's a thrilling little book that is maybe a tenth of the length of the real thing. So one might expect substantially less thrill in the long poem.

Yes and no. In the first book, King Dasharatha has everything but a son. Heroic sacrifices give him the son he wants, the future hero Rama, who goes around bending unbendable bows and killing unkillable demons. But, frankly, the main story doesn't get moving until Book 2. No Hanuman the monkey-hero, for example.

The greatest pleasures of reading the beginning of the actual Ramayana are the incidental passages, digressions, mythical tales, and inset stories that do not advance the plot at all. The sage Vasishtha orders his "heavenly, wish-fulfilling cow" to make "a huge amount of food" "using all the six flavors" (canto 51):

"She made sugarcane and sweets, parched grains and wines, excellent liquors, costly beverages and all sorts of food. She produced mountainous heaps of steaming rice, savory food, soups and rivers of curds. There were thousands of silver platters, filled with various delicious confections." (canto 52)

Then the king and the sage argue about selling the magic cow. The sage refuses, obviously. It's a heavenly, wish-fulfilling cow!

The very best thing in the first book of The Ramayana, actually, is the very beginning. The sage Valimiki sees a hunter kill a bird, is filled with pity, and spontaneously utters the first poem. The god Brahma suggests that Valmiki use this new technique to tell the story of the hero Rama in a vast poetic epic. The poet composes the poem, which is so wonderful that even Rama himself, still alive, wants to hear it. "And right there in the assembly, even Rama, in his desire to experience it fully, gradually permitted his mind to become enthralled."


  1. The final pieces of the Anti-Sympathy project are falling into place.


  2. Not this week, not next week. I needed, or thought I needed, that How to Read Like a Professor book, which is now being held for me. I also need some more thought, but at some point I'll have to cut my losses there.

  3. Oh interesting. I wondered if I needed that a while ago, then decided I didn't, but I may have been wrong. I await the anti-sympathy project with interest.

    Is GaltFast 2009 still scheduled for November? I think I'm about to start The Ayrshire Legatees.

  4. Nah, you didn't need it. Neither did I, except to check it off the list. It's all about patterns and symbols. Should be called How to Read Literature Like Some Professors. I'm going to reuse that joke.

    I still have 5 "volumes" of Galt to read. Although I guess I don't need to have it all read to start writing. So, yes, November, definitely. Very curious about what you'll think about The Ayrshire Legatees. I enjoyed it quite a bit.