CM . . .
. Volume XVI Number 24. . . .February 26, 2010
Radhika Sekar is an Indian-born Canadian with a background in religious studies focussing on Hinduism. She has published these three books in an effort to introduce some of her culture to children.
The books are large soft covers illustrated in a traditional Indian style. Festival of Light, illustrated by Katherine E. Allen, consists of seven stories associated with Deepavali, or Diwali, “a popular Hindu festival celebrated by all Hindus, irrespective of sect or caste.” The tales are told in folkloric cadence, but they are somewhat long and involved for those who discovering the characters for the first time.
In “The Slaying of Ravana and the Return of Prince Rama,” readers learn of the heroism of Rama in rescuing the lovely Sita from wicked Ravana, a many-headed asura, or ogre.
Rama explained how Ravana had tricked them and carried away Sita. “She must be rescued, but alas, we have no army. How can we fight the mighty Ravana?”
Calling all the monkeys of the forest together, Hanuman replied, “Don’t be discouraged, dear Prince. We will help you. Our monkey army will gather stones and make a bridge across the sea to Lanka.”
The defeat of Ravana comes not by severing his heads from his body but by striking the seat of his power, his belly.
Lord of Beginnings is a series of stories about Ganesh, or Ganesha, the elephant-headed god and son of goddess Parvati. He is known as the Lord of Beginnings because of how he got his elephant head after having his human one removed by Shiva. In the story “How Ganesha’s Tusk Got Broken,” we see the author including one of a number of short asides that explain certain characters or customs pertinent to the story.
The Ganesha festival falls after the rainy season on the fourth day of the Indian month of Bhadrapada (from September 15th to October 15th). On this day, Hindus everywhere give thanks for the harvest.
They prepare special feasts, including Ganesha’s favourite dessert: a sweet dumpling called modaka, which is made of rice flour stuffed with lentil, sugar, and coconut.
Hanuman is son of Vayu, god of the wind. He is a monkey, humble, courageous and devoted to Lord Rama. He is also the patron deity of yoga. The stories in Hanuman include “Birth of Hanuman,” “The Burning of Lanka” and “Valmiki & the Wisdom of Rama.” As in the previous book, the illustrator is Ontario artist David Badour.
While the effort to make Hindu mythology accessible to young people is appreciated, it is not entirely unique. Other collections available, such as The Puffin Book of Classic Indian Tales (from Penguin Books India) and Indian Children’s Favourite Stories (Tuttle), while not dealing exclusively with Hindu lore, do cover some of the same material and are also illustrated in a style echoing classical Indian art. Indian Tales: a Barefoot Collection, previously reviewed in CM, covers India by region and prefaces each story with a summary of customs, food and holiday observances. The pictures in this book are a more in the western style.
The books by Sekar are recommended for larger folklore collections, or for areas where there is an Indian population interested in Hindu lore.
Ellen Heaney is Head of Children’s Services at the New Westminster Public Library in New Westminster, BC.
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