Sorrowful Undertones & Self-Reflection

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One of the first aspects of this text that strikes the reader is the abundance of emotive adjectives and how these are used as a characterisation tool by Valmiki. It is also true that Valmiki himself writes in the third person, so as to characterise himself as a narrator—a rather unusual feature of this novel. The text is both self-reflective and melodic, inspiring a sense of storytelling and of great imagination.

Valmiki’s abundant use of hyperbolic adjectives can be found right from the beginning of the Ramayana. When describing a scene of Valmiki coming across a hunter who kills one of “two… kraunca birds” (pp. 10), words such as “golden” and “sweet” (pp.10) are linked to the birds, while the hunter is “cruel”(pp.10), the bird now “fallen” and its mate crying “piteously”(pp.10). These words are highly emotive and in a sense hyperbolic; through using them, Valmiki simultaneously holds the reader’s attention and strikes a contrast between good and evil—a distinction that pervades the story as a whole.

Valmiki is also self-reflective as a storyteller. He tells the story of Rama, yet he also writes expressively about himself. The story of the kraunca birds leads on to a period of conversation both inside his own mind, and then with his disciple. He wonders on the method of which he spoke of the birds—words “uttered in grief”(pp.11) that did not possess the same characteristics of normal speech. Thus, he begins to consider his own method of storytelling, triumphantly stating that he “will recite the history of Rama as a poem” in this new sloka meter that “had emerged from Valmiki’s sorrow” (pp.12). There is an interesting aspect to this self-reflection however, and that is that the word sloka and soka are similar in Sanskrit, but mean very different things. Valmiki conceives this new meter in such a way that its name has links with the word for grief in Sanskrit. This leads to a question of the link between verse and emotion; this new meter, born from the sorrows of a man who witnesses a great violation of something inherently good, is the way in which he decides to narrate the story of “the most righteous, the most virtuous” (pp.12) man: Rama.

Through numerous amounts of highly emotive adjectives, along with a high degree of self-reflection of both the author and even on the method in which the text is written, Valmiki irreversibly links a sense of sadness to this novel. How can a meter born from sadness be used to describe a truly happy, contented story? The Ramayana carries with it undertones of sadness from its conception—making the story both alluring and tragic.

 

--Sarah Novak

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