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Book Review: Demons of Chitrakut by Ashok K. Banker

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Demons of Chitrakut is the third part of Indian author Ashok K. Banker's Ramayana series, and continues Rama's epic tale beautifully. Rama weds Sita and returns to Ayodhya, after an encounter with Parashurama. Meanwhile, under the spell of Manthara's intrigues, Kaikeyi "persuades" Dasaratha to banish Rama and make Bharata the yuvaraja instead.

The scene where Rama tells Sita that he has been exiled is probably the most touching moment of the book. Eventually, they walk out with Lakshmana by their side towards the forests of Dandaka, where they must stay in exile for 14 years. Rama's evolution into a great persona, who follows his dharma steadfastly, no matter what the obstacles may be, is almost palpable.

Eventually, the Supanakha episode is played out. The mutilated rakshasi calls on her brother Khara and Dooshana to avenge her, and a 14,000-strong regiment of bloodthirsty rakshasas march from Janasthana to settle scores.

After the heady action of the first two parts, Banker slows down and concentrates on the diverse threads in the storyline. Demons of Chitrakut is so interesting because he retells the incidents that we all know well in such a refreshingly new manner. Truly, this Ramayana is his very own.

Each character is unique and hence stands out – devious Manthara, serving the dark lord Ravana, and manipulating Kaikeyi; helpless Dasaratha, who is forced to send Rama to the forest; wise Vibhishana, who wishes to create a righteous Lanka; Ravana trapped inside a rock, powerless; the girlish yet forthright queen Sumitra;the vulture king Jatayu, who comes to Rama's aid…

Banker has the enviable ability to slip into the "skin" of the character, and it shows. The end result is truly a masterpiece. I feel that this Ramayana series will achieve the same exalted status that Valmiki's Ramayana, Kamban's Tamil epic, Sant Tulsidas's Ramacharitamanas, Ezhuthachan's Malayalam version, and lots of other Ramayanas retold by literary geniuses in their own vernaculars were able to attain.

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