Posts Tagged ‘Free Culture’

Sita Sings the Blues

January 26, 2013

Nina Paley created this lighthearted animated feature film in 2008.  It mixes events from the great Indian epic The Ramayana, with historical commentary by Indian shadow puppets, blues songs by Annette Hanshaw and scenes from Paley’s own life.

I enjoyed it a lot, although it doesn’t do justice to The Ramayana.  The epic is longer than the Christian Bible or all the Star Trek episodes that have ever appeared on TV or in the movies, and I have never attempted to read the whole thing, but I greatly enjoyed William Buck’s translation and abridgement.

There’s something very sunny and good-natured about the Indian epic, as compared to the Iliad and the Odyssey, at least in the translations I’ve read.  In the Greek epics, the gods are all-powerful but indifferent to human welfare except for certain individuals who happen to gain their favor.  The siege of Troy follows a tragic script established by the gods that no individual can defy.  In the Ramayana and Mahbharata, in contrast, the gods are well-disposed to human beings, but subject to absent-mindedness and a propensity to make binding commitments they later regret.

The Ramayana’s war between the demons on the one hand and the humans, monkeys and bears on the other is caused by the willfulness and pride of a single individual, the demon king Ravana.  At the end, Rama slays Ravana, but then mourns his death.  With his 10 heads, 20 arms and 20 legs, nobody was so perfectly demonic as he was, Rama laments.  You don’t get this in the Greek epic, as when Odysseus kills Penelope’s suitors.