Paperbacks: The Penguin Companion to the Ramayana, by Bishnupada Chakravarty

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The Independent Culture

Composed by 1000BC, the Ramayana is a complex epic of "kidnap and conflict". Not the least of Chakravarty's achievements is to compress its 24,000 verses into a précis for "those unable to devote more than 15 or 20 minutes".

His delightful elucidations - including the size of the villain's army (100 billion or 20 times the population of the world now), the precise division of a regal rice pudding and an extended exploration of the aircraft that appear in the Ramayana ("the fuel was probably honey, vegetable oil and mercury") - will bring enlightenment and amusement to heroic readers of the saga.

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