Thursday, 27 October 2011

The Ramayana Clock

Valmiki the Sage © 2010
Valmiki the Sage is the author of the epic Indian adventure, "The Ramayana." His name literally means, "Born out of an anthill" and begs an obvious question! The answer is that his original name was Ratnakar, and he was a successful and murderous highwayman before he made the mistake of trying to rob the celestial sage, Narada. When Narada curiously asks him why he is stealing and killing people, Ratnakar replies that he needs money to take care of his family. Narada then challenges him to ask them if they will, in return for his care, share in the bad kharma he is building up for himself; he offers Ratnakar untold wealth if he can return with the news that his family is prepared to share the penalty for his actions. Ratnakar is confident they will, but it never pays to bet against a sage...

Following is an excerpt from Sri Chinmoy's play, "Why should I be responsible?" from his book of plays, "My Rama is My All."


(In the forest again. Ratnakar has returned to Narada.)

NARADA: So, you have come here to take your money? Take as much as you want. Why are you so sad? Tell me, what is the news? What is your news?

RATNAKAR: My news is that I have given up my family. I will not be responsible for them since they do not feel responsible for me. They are a bunch of ungrateful creatures: my son, my wife, my parents. I do not want them. I do not need them. Right here, tell me what I should do. I will listen to you.

NARADA: My only advice to you is this: repeat only one name - Rama, Rama, Rama. He will forgive you. He will give you salvation. And it is you who will immortalise him on earth. Long, long before he is born, before he comes into this earthly existence, you will write his biography. You will tell about his immortal life, his life of dedication, his life of glory, his life of fulfilment. All this you will write down in his biography. From now on repeat his name: Rama, Rama, Rama. Just repeat it and let me hear.

RATNAKAR: Mara, Mara, Mara.

NARADA: Can't you say his name?

RATNAKAR: I can't.

(To read the whole play, click here.)

Ratnakar has done so many bad things that he is unable to even say Rama's name, but Narada encourages him to just say what he can, "Mara, Mara, Mara," knowing that if you say "Ma-ra" (which means "death") it will eventually turn into "Ra-ma." A lesson for us all! The story goes that Ratnakar sits down and says the name for so many years that anthills grow up all around him, and when he comes out of his trance he takes his new name, Valmiki, and sets about writing the Ramayana.

Here you can see the story of the Ramayana carved into stone at the caves of Ellora, in India. The current academic consensus is that the oldest documented version of the Ramayana was written in either 5th or 4th century BC, but most spiritual masters refer to the story as though it happened a very long time before that. "Ramayana" means "Rama's Journey." It chronicles the exciting life of Prince Rama, his wife Sita and brother Lakshmana, and is one of the most famous of all Indian stories, along with the Mahabharata. I'm surprised Disney has never animated it, comprising as it does treacherous relatives, an unjust banishment, a wicked demon kidnapping the Princess Sita, an arduous journey and an all-out battle involving magic, widespread personal sacrifice and at least one resurrection. Plus endless talking monkeys, bears and squirrels.

The Hindu festival of Divali, a real festival of lights, which started yesterday and lasts for five days, celebrates Rama and Sita returning to their rightful kingdom; exhausted, I'm sure. We would call it a fairy-tale, but in India it is spoken of as history, and in such a country, who knows? It was supposed to take place not in the golden age but in the time that followed it, when society had fallen considerably; though not as considerably as today. At that time, magical powers were commonplace and weird beasts lurked round every corner; even the air was different. To the Hindus, the Rama of the Ramayana is not just a prince, but a spiritual master, the first of the Indian Avatars; a word that means "descent"; in this case the descent of a very special soul from the highest inner worlds, with a particular mission to fulfil on earth. His life demonstrates the concept of morality and duty above all other considerations, and millions of Hindus pray to him for protection and illumination. His faithful companion, Hanuman, the monkey hero, embodies the ideal devotee who is completely devoted and dedicated to his master's wishes. Or they are a great warrior and a friendly talking monkey, depending on your point of view! The main thing is that it's a completely great story, on every level.

The Ramayana Clock, designed by Brookbrae, illustrated by Hita Hirons.

The Ramayana Clock was born about ten years ago when my friends, Tirthika and Suruchi, who own a company called Brookbrae, phoned me up and said they had something interesting for me to illustrate. They design, produce, and fit fountains, sculptures, sun dials, giant clocks; lots of different things. Sometimes their clients are big businesses and sometimes it is a private commission, but everything they do is interesting and unusual. On this occasion, an Indian gentleman in Leicester had asked them to create an heirloom for his family. He wanted it to reflect the land of his birth and to instruct, but also delight, his children. He remembered the clock-tower in his home village in India where everyone would gather to tell stories, and that gave him the idea for this storytelling clock. On brass inlaid on a smooth wooden surface was to be etched the immortal message of the Gayatri mantra, and a little window was left through which another face, turned by the same mechanism as the hour hand, could be seen telling the story of the Ramayana in miniature. The little window was just 10cmx4cmx7cm; each wedge-shaped picture had to measure the same and be painted onto the metal disc that rotated behind the clockface.

Here you can see the metal plate before they fixed it into the clock.

Sita in Ravana's Garden, Building the Bridge, Over the Bridge to Lanka

These are some of my favourite images from the clock. When I accepted the commission I had no idea what style I would work in. At that time planning was not part of my process, so I just slapped some metalwork undercoat around the edge of the wheel, divided it into seventeen windows (the maximum I felt I could squeeze out of the space allotted me, as well as being a prime number) and started on the first picture with oil paint, as I thought it would be more durable than acrylic.

The Golden Deer, The Abduction, The Handkerchief

I didn't draw any roughs or outlines in pencil, I just painted straight onto the metal; my illustration tutors would have despaired! I didn't want the pictures to be completely separate, but to run into each other, so that at all times something interesting could be seen, and I decided to start and finish the story using the device of a pillar. It was hard to squash everything into such a tiny space but somehow it came together. The colours came out of nowhere; I had never done anything remotely like it before. Working so small I wanted everything to jump out with a lot of energy and maybe that is where the vivid colours came from. 
The Handkerchief, Hanuman Leaps to Lanka, Sita in Ravana's Garden

My favourite picture is Hanuman jumping across the sea to Sri Lanka, but the pictures work well as a set and I am happy to have them in an A4 format (well, 8"x12") for the first time, on sale at Etsy. I have some more plans for them; for instance I will be printing them as greetings cards soon, and I would also like to make a Ramayana colouring book so that younger readers can make their own decisions on important matters, like exactly what colour Sita's dress is etc.

So, anyway, that's the story; a very Happy Divali to all lovers of Indian things, everywhere!


  1. Wow, wow, wow! Delighted to read and to see this Hita! What a wonderful thing that clock! I'd love to see it in motion! (Hm.. now I'm having ideas about my clocks...)
    This set of images could almost be a strip for inside a zoetrope too couldn't it...
    Your work is shining brightly for this festival of light :) x

  2. This is wonderful.
    The Ramayana is just about my favourite Indian story and one that I should really learn for telling. Perhaps I'll celebrate Diwali by learning it.
    Your clock-wheel is a wonder - I too would love to see it in action! If you ever get photos or video, post them, please!
    Tonight, happy Samhuinn and happy Diwali too!

  3. Thanks, you two! I didn't know what a zoetrope was, so I just looked it up and it's definitely an article from your world, Rima. Your own clocks are the most beautiful things. My favourite one ever is the hare playing a violin. Something about it just touches my heart - it looks so joyful. Anyway, thanks for your comments both, and happy whatever-celebration-takes your fancy! We seem to have so many at the moment; Samhuinn, All Saints, Day of the Dead, Guy Fawkes... Even with the centuries old animosity between the British and French, no-one here will be celebrating the attempted blowing up of the London Houses of Parliament, so come November 5th I shall probably be standing outside all on my own with some sparklers; patriotic, eh? The people in my apartment block have already dubbed me the English Phantom (because I am hardly ever at home, I suppose) so they should not be surprised to see me burning a strange effigy and dancing around with fireworks; all English people are insane, after all.

  4. Hanuman Vs Mahiravana is the theatrical 3D movie coming soon in cinemas on 6th July'18 - The film showcases the race against time for Hanuman to save Rama and Laxman from the clutches of Mahiravana the king of the underworld, an evil sorcerer and the brother of Ravana