Two Illustrated Books on the Ramayana

So a couple months ago, I read two children’s books that retell the classic Hindu tale, the Ramayana. My knowledge of Hinduism is VERY limited — I only know the names of a few of the gods — so when I picked up Ramayana: Divine Loophole (which I read first), I did so assuming the it was a children’s fantasy book. It wasn’t until I started reading that I learned it’s an essential part of Hindu mythology.


Ramayana: Divine Loophole by Sanjay Patel (illus.)

Genre

MG Classic; Mythology

Series

n/a

Pubbed

2010

From Goodreads

Artist and veteran Pixar animator Sanjay Patel lends a lush, whimsical illustration style and lighthearted voice to one of Hindu mythology’s best-loved and most enduring tales. Teeming with powerful deities, love-struck monsters, flying monkey gods, magic weapons, demon armies, and divine love, Ramayana tells the story of Rama, a god-turned-prince, and his quest to rescue his wife Sita after she is kidnapped by a demon king.

This illustrated tale features over 100 colorful full-spread illustrations, a detailed pictorial glossary of the cast of characters who make up the epic tale, and sketches of the work in progress. From princesses in peril to gripping battles, scheming royals, and hordes of bloodthirsty demons, Ramayana is the ultimate adventure story presented with an unforgettably modern touch. (Goodreads)


My thoughts

Ramayana: Divine Loophole relays one of the greatest epic Hindu tales. It’s the story of Rama, an avatar of the blue god Vishnu, who preserves and protects the universe and makes up the Hindu trinity along with Brahma and Shiva. Vishnu reincarnated himself as Rama to defeat the powerful demon Ravana, whom no god or demon can defeat. But as a human and with the help of his brother Lakshman and his friends Hanuman (a flying monkey who is the son of the wind god, Vayu), Jambavan (a bear chief), and Sugriva (an exiled monkey king), Rama is able to defeat the demon to rid the world of a great evil and rescue his wife, Sita, who the demon had kidnapped.

Patel did a great job condensing the story and writing it in a way that would captivate and entertain a modern audience, especially kids, who are the intended audience. Despite the book being almost 200 pages long, it is a quick read brimming with illustrations (over 100 of them).

I immensely enjoyed my time reading this, both because of the story and the illustrations that accompany it. The story fascinated me, but it was also exciting because it includes a prince being banished from his kingdom by a jealous mom, fights with demons, a great war, and a powerful monkey transporting an entire mountain to help cure a friend of a fatal wound. The only thing that didn’t work for me is when Rama questioned Sita’s virtue and she had to walk through fire to prove her innocence. I’m sure much detail was probably left out and the prose isn’t flowery or poetic, but it still gripped me. I had a wonderful time with this and appreciated it introducing me to a Hindu tale.

In the extra pages at the back, the book contains brief descriptions of the characters — gods, animals, warriors, demons — who appear in the story, as well as maps that track the routes Rama took on his adventures. And there are also sketches and a note on Patel’s process working on the book (it took him 4 years to complete). I also think the introduction is worth checking out as well before getting into the story because Patel talks about his inspiration for the book and how working on it helped him to connect with a part of his cultural identity.

Art style

Patel is a Pixar artist, and I think I could see influences of that in his work. The illustrations in this book are striking and stunning. There are a lot of geometric forms. The characters and surroundings are all drawn with very straight, precise lines, and there are more sharp angles and blockiness to the forms than curves. But I love this! I love this style so much. I love how clean it all is and the fine details and the patterns. The orderliness to it all is very pleasing to my eye.

I also love how colorful the book is. It’s so dazzling, and I’m beyond happy that I purchased myself a copy. It’s so beautiful. I hope Patel writes/creates more books like this.

Overall: ★★★★★

A concisely told epic tale that’s filled with several exciting moments and is accompanied by gorgeous, detailed, stunning illustrations.

Buy | Borrow | Bypass

Trust me, it’s worth it.


The Adventures of Rama by Milo Cleveland Beach, with illustrations from a 16th-century Mughal Manuscript

Genre

MG Classic; Mythology

Series

n/a

Pubbed

1983

From Goodreads

The Adventures of Rama are incidents derived from the Ramayana, the ancient Hindu tale that was transmitted orally for centuries, captured into magnificent painted texts by the Mughal ateliers who translated them into Persian. These incidents have been retold here and lavishly illustrated using original paintings from a 16th-century Mughal manu-script in Persian, ordered by Emperor Akbar for the commander-in-chief of the imperial army, Abd-ar-Rahim. Only 23 illustrations from the total 130 paintings are included in this book… First published in 1983 by the Freer Gallery of Art, this edition by Mapin is newly designed, enriched with details from the illustrations in the book. (Goodreads)


My thoughts

The Adventures of Rama is a children’s picture book that also retells a condensed version of the Ramayana. It’s much shorter than Patel’s book (above) containing only about 68 pages. The retelling hits all the major points in the story and are depicted by illustrations from a 16th-century Mughal manuscript.

I found a copy of this book at the library shortly after completing Patel’s book. It was on display in the checkout area and I thought it was too much of a coincidence to pass on it, so I borrowed it. Unfortunately, I didn’t enjoy it as much as I did Patel’s book.

I think it does a good job of concisely retelling the Ramayana, but this retelling was not engaging to me. The writing is pretty straight-forward, which I don’t mind, but not much is done to draw in the reader and make it as exciting a read as it could be. Thankfully, it was a short read and my unimpressive reading experience with it was not prolonged.

(I must confess, though, that since I read this shortly after reading and immensely enjoying Patel’s book, it’s possible I judged it a lot harder than I would have if I hadn’t read and enjoyed Patel’s book first.)

Although certain events are similar in Patel and Beach’s retelling, certain details differ, which I at first attributed to the translations the authors were working from. However, I appreciate the note on the text and illustrations included in Beach’s book that gives some background details on the Ramayana, one of which is that “there is no one correct text.” The story was retold throughout India over the centuries and certain parts of it was emphasized depending on where in the country the story was being told.

Although this is a children’s picture book, the way it’s written and the illustrations that accompany it do not seem geared toward kids to me. The way it’s written in Patel’s book (above) would appeal more to kids than how it’s presented in Beach’s book. And although I appreciated seeing illustrations from an old manuscript, I don’t think they would appeal to kids either; so personally, I wouldn’t recommend this one to young children. I’d instead recommend it to teens and up.

Art style

As I just mentioned, I appreciated seeing illustrations from the manuscript but only because I was able to see/interact with a copy of an artifact. I otherwise did not like the illustrations.

The illustrations are from a late 16th-century manuscript that was made for the commander-in-chief of the imperial armies of Akbar the Great, “a Muslim and a foreigner to India” who became emperor at age 13 in 1556. The manuscript contains 130 paintings but only 23 are included in the book. The manuscript is housed at the Freer Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C.

Some of the illustrations were nice but mostly they did not appeal to me. I think I probably wouldn’t have minded them much if I viewed them outside the book, on their own; however, I kept considering them in relation to the story as I read it and noticed that sometimes what’s depicted did not match what I read on the page. There were also some inconsistencies, like the tone used for Rama (sometimes he’s blue or very dark and sometimes he’s not, but I wonder if that’s due to the paint pigment changing over time).

Overall: ★★☆☆☆

It’s not horrible, but I really wasn’t feeling it.

Buy | Borrow | Bypass

I mean… if it sounds interesting to you, then certainly check it out, but I wouldn’t recommend it to kids. I’d instead direct folks to check out Patel’s book.

16 thoughts on “Two Illustrated Books on the Ramayana

  1. I think it’s awesome you found two very different books telling the same basic stories. It’s fascinating comparing the two, the first looking far more modern and it sounds like the story was crafted for a more modern audience, and the second being based on more traditional artwork and storytelling. I can certainly understand your preference for the one over the other. Over the past year or so I’ve read some retellings of Greek mythology and stories and then also listened to an audiobook reading of The Aenid, one of the classic works. I thoroughly enjoyed the retellings but didn’t much care for the classic work.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I often lean toward retellings too since they are more often geared toward a modern audience. The classic works are hit or miss for me. I’ve been struggling to find a good translated of the Iliad & the Odyssey. However, I read a great translation of Jason and the Argonauts years ago that I absolutely loved.

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  2. It’s a good start in classic Indian literature, but it’s good to keep in mind that the Ramayana and the Mahabharata were written by and designed for people who lived more than 2000 years ago. Like the Iliad and the Odyssey are the two epic poems that are the foundational works of ancient Greek literature. In some cases you could also question Homer’s moral compass when you going to judge his works through 21st century filters.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yep, I am aware of the time that it was written and that I am not the intended audience. I liked the story, especially how it’s presented in Patel’s book. However, no matter the work, I’ll always point out what did or didn’t work for me as a reader.

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  3. Great reviews, and good to contrast the two. But also you can get retelling burnout – I know I didn’t enjoy Neil Gaiman’s Norse mythology book as much as I could have because it came at the end of a run of a few Norse mythology retellings!

    Liked by 1 person

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