Also, did you really think I would go to India and not come back telling the story of the Ramayana, the oldest Indian epic poem every written? Didn’t think so either, gather around kiddos, this is one of my favorites.
The poem of The Ramayana begins very long ago in ancient India when the dreaded, villainous Ravana, the ten-headed demon king of Lanka, is given immortality by Brahma and becomes an insufferalbe pain in the butt, harassing the people, cursing gods, you know... general ten-headed demon behavior.
Of course, to defeat the terrible Ravana, the Hindu god Vishnu is sent as mortal Rama, the eldest son of Raja Dashrath, to destroy the monster. Rama is straight, moral, and perfect in every way.
Rama marries the beautiful Sita after winning her hand in a wrestling match. After which, Rama's father abdicates the throne, making way for Rama to become king.
(Jifoung is this cool little mountain beach town with these wonderful tea shops. One must climb up steps and sit in the tiny alleyway shops sipping marvelous tea and overlooking the ocean. Looks a little like our Oregon, don't you think?)
But owing to a promise the king made to another of his wives, Bharat is made king instead, and Rama, along with Sita and his brother Laxman, are banished to the jungle for fourteen years.
Bharat, humbled, journeys to the deep forest to persuade Rama to return to Ayodhya, the kingdom, but the noble man refuses, sincere to take his painful exile with honor. Bharat returns, and places Rama’s sandals on the throne instead. (How cool is that?)
In the jungle, Ramam, Sita, and Laxman settle in small hut beside the river Jamuna until one day, the encounter the demon Ravan’s evil sister, Suparnakha, who naturally falls in love with Rama because of his charm and beauty, who wouldn't right?
(Here Hartenstein gets some much needed time with his beautiful daughters. We stroll, feel some wind in our face, some barefoot soggy grass between our toes, and watch the fishing ships as we dream about heading over the ocean home.)
After she is rejected, Suparnakha attacks and Rama slices her nose, ears, and breasts clean off.
Enraged that his sister has been abused, Ravana sends an army of demons to attack, then lures Rama and Laxman away from the hut in the guise of a deer and returns to Sita dressed as a sadhu, begging for food, and bent on secret revenge.
(After Jifoung, we visited Keelung just outside of Taipei and stayed the night, visiting the Keelung Temple. Very cool. Keelung is a port city and ships were constantly arriving and departing in the harbor.)
When Sita, who is noble and kind, comes out to give the disguised Ravana food, she is kidnapped and taken to Lanka.
(The Keelung night market is famous for its seafood and cool atmosphere, and believe me, it didn't disappoint. It was fun to sit around late in the night and sample food with the girls, do some people watching, and just relax, drifting away in the crowd.)
To rescue the beautiful Sita, (and this is my favorite part) Rama enlists the help of Hanuman, the leader of an army of flying monkeys. (Yes, I said freaking flying monkeys!) They attack Lanka.
The flying monkeys help Rama build a bridge of stones across the ocean and a fierce battle ensues. Both brave Rama and Laxman suffer injuries on their way to defeating the menacing demons.
(Back in Taichung, Hartenstein finds yet another panda kite to fly on blustery days. It rains our first weekend, but we brave the chills and head out singing songs from, what else, Mary Poppins. I love my life.)
In a final battle, Rama defeats Ravana and returns to Ayodhya to find the houses illuminated with oil lamps in his honor. He is reunited with Sita, all is well, and the story of their love becomes legend.
(Rebekah gets a turn flying the kite. It was so nice just to stand in the grass with my daughters, I couldn't have missed them more, their little fingers and toes, their little teeth inside little grins. Sometimes I think I am the luckiest person alive.)
The celebration of Ravana's death and the triumphant return to Ayodhya by Rama, the king, is celebrated in the Diwali, the festival of lights. Little children in India are now taught, "Be like Rama. Be like Sita." How sweet is that?
(Xi'an, not to be outdone, performs later that day in her school's annual speech contest. It will be the subject of a later blog. We practiced for weeks over skype while I was on the road. I was so proud of her for getting up there and singing too. By the way, she placed first this round and moves on to the citywide championship in two weeks. Fingers crossed.)