The first two stories feature the healing powers of the banyan tree, a cool refuge from the summer heat. In “Savitri and Satyavan,” the princess Savitri marries the poor woodcutter Satyavan, who is actually a prince robbed of his kingdom. When Satyavan dies suddenly, Savitri asks the banyan tree to guard him. She then persistently follows the King of the Underworld until he grants her three wishes, which she uses to regain her husband and his kingdom. “Sharavan Kumar and His Wife” tells how a wife who is mean to her husband’s parents redeems herself after their deaths. She asks the banyan tree to cure her wounded husband, and the tree is moved by her caring and remorse.
Four stories from the Mahabharata tell about the god Krishna, whose birth is celebrated in August. In “The Birth of Krishna, the Blue God,” evil King Kans hears a prophecy that his sister’s child will kill him. He imprisons his sister and her husband, killing each of their newborn children. Heaven helps the couple switch Krishna with a cousin in the next kingdom just as Kans orders all male newborns in his realm slaughtered. “Krishna and the Demon Nurse” relates how Kans discovers Krishna’s rescue and sends the demon Pootana, disguised as a nurse, to poison the child. The infant’s powers, however, enable him to destroy the nurse. In “The Serpent King,” Krishna, at the age of twelve, destroys the five-headed snake Kaliya, rescuing his friends from its realm beneath the river. “How Krishna Killed the Wicked King Kans” tells how the adult Krishna is tricked into a wrestling match, but his strength allows him to kill a wild elephant, two giants, and King Kans. He then frees his parents and the people from tyranny.
In early September, after the full moon, Hindus remember their dead relatives at the Moon Day festivities. “Doda and Dodi” tells of a brother and sister, one very rich and the other very poor. When Doda’s wife mistreats his sister, their father’s ghost intervenes. The wife’s continued tricks are turned against her by her husband, and she finally learns her lesson.
In late September, Hindus celebrate Dussehra, the Festival of Victory. The five-part “How Ram Defeated the Demon King Ravan” tells the story of the triumph of good over evil in the great epic Ramayana. First, “King Dashrat’s Special Heir” relates how the gods regretted granting the evil Ravan immortality and arranged for the god Vishnu to be born into the body of Ram in order to undo the mistake. In “Ram Is Banished,” King Dashrat decides to abdicate in favor of his son Ram. The mother of Ram’s half brother, Bharat, however, uses the two wishes that Dashrat granted her years ago to make her son king and to banish Ram to the forest for fourteen years. Ram honors his father’s promise, but Bharat honors his brother’s right to the throne by reigning as caretaker, with Ram’s sandals occupying the throne until his return. In the third part of the tale, “The Kidnapping of Sita,” the evil Ravan’s demon sister falls in love with Ram but is spurned by him. In retaliation, she persuades...
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Seasons of Splendour provides an accessible introduction to Hindu mythology and epic, an important area of world literature that has received little attention from the English-language publishing and academic worlds. Madhur Jaffrey makes a significant contribution to literature for young adults by providing access to some of the classic stories of India. In the last quarter of the twentieth century, many critics and scholars called for a rethinking of the narrow scope of the traditional Western canon of literature. Seasons of Splendour makes a strong case for considering Hindu mythology as equal in importance to the Greek, Roman, Norse, and Judeo-Christian traditions.