A Critical Study of an Indian Epic

Ramayana, the Poisonous Tree

[Stories, Essays & Foot notes]

by Ranganayakamma

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Abstract: As the title indicates, this book is a critical study of an Indian epic, ‘The Ramayana’. It proceeds in the same order as that of Sanskrit original consisting of : Bala kanda, Ayodhya kanda, Aranya kanda, Kishkindha kanda, Sundara kanda, Yuddha kanda and Uttara kanda. While Valmiki’s Ramayana is composed of about 24,000 slokas (verses), ‘Ramayana the Poisonous Tree’ consists of 16 stories, long and short, accompanied by 11 ‘links’ (narratives that ‘link’ the stories) and 504 foot-notes that show evidence from the Sanskrit original in support of the critique. Besides the main components of the text, this book has a long ‘Preface’ discussing the social essence of the epic in the context of history of evolution of human society from the ancient times to the modern times. The book also offers a critical review of the works of ‘some earlier critics of Ramayana’.

The authoress describes Ramayana as a Poisonous Tree because it defends the autocratic rule of the kings against the people, their imperial expansion by invading other weak kingdoms, exploitation of the poor by the rich, oppression of lower castes by upper castes, aggression of the civilized non-tribal communities against primitive tribal communities, male chauvinism against women, superstitious beliefs against the rational thinking, fathers’ domination over sons, elder brothers’ superiority over younger brothers and so on. She substantiated her arguments by providing hundreds of foot notes from the Sanskrit original. She characterizes the culture of Ramayana as predominantly ‘feudal’ in nature with an admixture of remnants of primitive ‘tribal’ culture.

The book, it is hoped, will be of interest to both academic and non-academic circles. It is relevant to the students, teachers and researchers who are connected with such disciplines as South Asian Studies, Cultural Studies, Comparative Literature, Comparative Religions, Indology, Literary Criticism and so on. It is also relevant to the social and political activists who would like to disseminate ‘progressive’ ideas among the people who are subjected to various forms of inequality: Class, Caste, Gender, Race, Ethnicity.

Ranganayakamma (born 1939) is a writer of novels, stories and essays in Telugu. She has published about 60 books.