Bruce and I are continuing on with my SLE inspired reading list by reading the Ramayana for Children. Our family belongs to the United Methodist church, so introducing Hinduism to my six year old might seem a bit odd. But the motto of my church is “Open Hearts, Open Minds, Open Doors”, and this is something that the Bardsley household tries to follow. We have enough confidence in our own beliefs to boldly explore onward with our children! (But not Jenna yet. She’d be too confused.)
Here are the Learning Goals for my SLE Inspired Reading List:
- Understand that people from other countries, cultures and religious traditions might have different core beliefs and thoughts about the world than we do.
- Identify, explore and evaluate those beliefs, and consider how they influence action and practice.
- Become well versed in Greek mythology, and understand the connection between ancient stories and the Western values we prize today in the modern world.
Here are the Values I would like Bruce to take away from the Ramayana
- Think carefully about the consequences of the promises you make.
- There is honor in doing something because it is your duty, not because you are going to be rewarded.
- The concept of filial piety.
Here is the version of the Ramayana we are using:Illustrated Ramayana for Children
I purchased the version by Swami Raghaveshananda because the price was right, and I was already spending so much on the rest of our reading list. I am very happy with the illustrations, but less so with the prose which includes odd syntax that sounds funny at times to the American ear.
Our Initial Experience Reading the Book:
Right now Bruce and I are at the part where Sita has been captured by Ravana. Bruce has looked ahead to the pictures and is very excited to discover “what’s going on with the monkeys?” I have looked ahead and was very pleased to find that this version of the Ramayana has somewhat of a happy ending. Rama casts Sita out once she is returned because she has lived in another man’s house for a year. But then Sita jumps into a fire to prove her purity, is unharmed, and everyone lives happily ever after. This is the Thai version of the epic, which seems a lot more reasonable than Sita being banished to the forest by herself and becoming a single mother.
Midway Through the Book:
Bruce and I are now nearing the end of reading the Ramayana together, and we have been working through it for about three weeks. For being such a flimsy book, it’s really taking us a long time because the story is so complex. There are demons, fights and magical animals on just about every page, so we are only reading a few pages at a time. It would be like trying to read 40 pages of the Bible with a 6 year old. That just wouldn’t work very well, so we are taking this slowly.
Reading the Ramayana with Bruce is a radically different experience than reading it in college. I’m not trying to be culturally insensitive here, but take this “text to text connection” we made for example. In the Ramayana there is a giant monkey army that comes to the aide of Rama, led my Hanuman, the monkey army general. At one point, all of the monkeys gather and there are millions of monkeys as far as the eye can see. This of course made both Bruce and I think about Hand, Hand, Fingers, Thumb, by Al Perkins aka Dr. Seuss. Even the part about monkeys with rings reminds me of Hanuman bringing Rama’s ring to Sita.
Hand, Hand, Fingers, Thumb was published in 1969. At that time in America there were a lot of “East meets West” ideas floating around contemporary culture. It really makes me wonder if Dr. Seuss was reading the Ramayana at the time!
The other thing that Bruce and I have been discussing midway through the Ramayana is the idea of Hope. Sita is sitting underneath the tree in Ravana’s garden and she is utterly hopeless and miserable. She’s crying and she no longer cares about her appearance. But Vishnu, as Rama, sends the monkey Hanuman to Sita bearing a ring, and that gives Sita the strength to carry on. I told Bruce that I believed that even when you were really hurt and upset, that you had to remember the story of Sita and look for God to send love your way. It probably won’t be a monkey bearing a ring, but it might be a poem, a song you hear on the radio, a beautiful sunset, or a friend giving you a kind word of encouragement. I hope this is something he remembers later in his life (especially when he is a teenager).
When we are all done reading the Ramayana, we are going to watch the 1995 movie version of The Little Princess. A retelling of the Ramayana is woven throughout this film.