By M.R. Narayan Swamy
Title: Uttara: The Book of Answers; Author: (Translated by) Arshia Sattar; Publisher: Penguin; Pages: 286; Price: Rs 499
The Uttara Kanda is the seventh and last book of Valmiki’s Ramayana. It chronicles events after Lord Rama’s exile and as the reinstated king of Ayodhya. As scholar Arshia Sattar says, it acts as an epilogue to the main story whose loose ends are tied up and the narrative closure is provided with Rama’s ascent to heaven.
Uttara Kanda is also important because the way we see Rama after reading this is very different from how we would view Him if we did not go beyond the Yuddha Kanda.
Undoubtedly, the most poignant and heart-wrenching moment in Uttara Kanda is the banishment of Sita by Rama after bazaar gossip about her when she was in Ravana’s captivity. It is that one moment in the Ramayana saga when questions are raised if Rama should have done what he did, dumping an innocent woman, His own wife, in a forest, an act that shattered even Rama’s otherwise loyal brother Lakshmana.
The second such moment in the epic comes when Rama draws his sword and, without any emotion or hesitation, cuts off the head of Shambuka — because he, a “Shudra’, was undertaking the most difficult austerities to attain heaven. Brahmin sages praise Rama for the killing, arguing that the low-caste man was violating the established caste order.
The Uttara Kanda spends its early chapters relating to Rama, through the learned sages, on the history of Ravana’s family. Generations of Ravana’s family emerge as rapacious and needlessly aggressive, with the king of Lanka finally earning a curse from women tormented by him that his head would split if he were to touch any other woman. This curse saves Sita.
Those who love Hindu epics will enjoy this book. The author’s translation of Valmiki’s Ramayana still remains a bestseller.