Even though I’ve been to India many times over the past ten years, it wasn’t until I went to Hampi in 2007 that I first visited a place that is featured in the great Indian epic the Ramayana.
The place in question was the Kodandarama Temple, which was where – in one of the most morally questionable incidents in the tale – the hero Rama killed the king Vali and restored Vali’s brother Sugriva to the throne of Kishkindha, the monkey kingdom, in return for help from Sugriva’s general Hannuman to rescue his wife Sita from the clutches of the demon-king Ravana in Lanka.
Intrigued by the incident, I bought a copy of the Ramayana after the trip to learn more about it, and as I plowed my way through the twists and turns of the epic tale I found myself toying with the idea of visiting some of the other locations in the book or perhaps even retracing the whole route followed by Rama, Sita, and Lakshman.
Unfortunately, I haven’t yet been able to find the time to make such a trip, but if I ever do I will have the perfect companion in Martin Buckley’s book, An Indian Odyssey, in which the author recounts his experiences following the trail from the northern city of Ayodhya right down to Ravana’s fortress in Sri Lanka.
But An Indian Odyssey is no mere travelogue, for the author uses it to describe his own love affair with the country and its culture over a period of twenty-five years and to show how the 3,000 year epic can help people understand the complexities, contradictions, and conflicts of modern day India.
The narrative of the book can be a little confusing, flitting as it does from the present day to the author’s first trip to the sub-continent twenty-five years and even to his own précis of the epic, but at the same time it is highly entertaining and provides some fascinating insights into the impact that the Ramayana has had on India right up to the present day.