The Bridge to Mother Nature: The Ramayana Revised by Bipranarayan Bhattacharyya

The Ramayana, an Indian epic composed by Maharshi Valmiki, happen to be a text that has repeatedly subjected itself to eco-critical readings. Indeed, a story that shows a young prince leaving the royal capital to leave for the forest, and eventually conquering a technologically advanced urban kingdom with a pack of monkeys is bound to have ecological significance. In his book Prachin Sahitya, Rabindranath Tagore claimed that the vanavas signified the clan chief Rama carrying modern agricultural knowledge (symbolized by Sita) from the north to the southern regions. However, the two texts we shall discuss here are the products of post-economic liberalization era and therefore bring in the aspects of biodiversity loss, crop failure, climate change and energy crisis that plague the human society at present.

The animated film Ramayana: A Legend of Prince Rama was co-produced in 1992 by Japan and India as a mark of the continuing diplomatic friendship between two countries. Directed by Yugo Sako, Ram Mohan and Koichi Sasaki, the film incorporates important elements from the Japanese samurai culture, and consistently maintains an eco-critical angle. The demons are shown as environmentally detrimental beings, quite early in the film, and the forest invaded by Tadaka and her sons is shown as barren and devoid of living organisms, in sharp contrast to the neighbouring lands. The four sons of Dasharath are shown as spending time in the garden as one of them tends a peacock, while Manthara drives away a band of sparrows from a window sill before approaching Kaikeyi with her shady insinuations. After beginning the period of exile, Rama, Sita and Lakshman are shown to spend their days in Panchvati in close communion with nature, flanked by forest animals like deer, squirrels and birds who assist them in building a thatched hut. As Ravana abducts Sita, a deer tries to stop him before it gets rudely kicked by the demon king, and Jatayu comes after. The construction of the bridge to Lanka is a task completed by the co-operative effort of monkeys, deer, tortoise, squirrel and fish. As the monkey king Sugriva picks up a tree to defend himself from the attack of the demon prince Nikumbha, a nest falls off its branches and the mother bird flies off with the chicks in her beaks to save them from the ongoing destruction. War, much like in Wilfred Owen’s poem Spring Offensive, is shown to have a disruptive effect on life and nature. As Ravana bites the dust at the end of the film, his corpse is shown to be eventually covered by lush greenery that expands itself throughout the barren land of Lanka, heralding a new age of fertility and natural prosperity. Interestingly, the only portion of Lanka where greenery existed until this moment was the Ashoka Van, a place that had been sanctified by the presence of Sita, who happened to be the veritable representation of nature, the daughter of Mother Earth Herself.

Ramayan 3392 AD, a brainchild of Deepak Chopra and Shekhar Kapur, is a series of graphic novels written by Shamik Dasgupta, drawn by Abhishek Singh and published by Virgin Comics. Re-imagining the Indian myth in a post-apocalyptic future, it shows prince Rama Chandra Suryavanshi of Armagarh, fighting on behalf of the surviving humans against the demon-lord Ravana, a sentient artificial intelligence program gone rogue. Ravana rules over a land named Nark, populated by his monstrous brood comprising of nanotechnology based shape-shifting androids. He dreams to extend his hold to Aryavarta, the human continent. Wherever the demons go, the land is reduced to barren terrains of radioactive waste like Janasthan and Dandakaranya. Armagarh is maintained like a military stronghold, with maximum effort being spent on producing master warriors called Kshatriyas. The ravaging society discovers a new alternative in Sita, a girl dwelling in the underwater garden city of Mithila, who possesses the magical power of creating life. She is the only option that can save this dystopian world populated by demonic androids and ravaged by endless strife. The noxious gases blowing in the desert of Thar, the superbike driving Vanara rovers, the smuggling town of Panchvati call up a dystopian society born from the remains of the nuclear holocaust akin to films like Mad Max: Fury Road or novels like Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games.

Dr. Bipranarayan Bhattacharyya is an Assistant Professor in the Department of English, Government General Degree College, Kharagpur-II. His areas of interest include Victorian Studies, Children’s Literature, Popular Culture and Environmental Studies.

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