© 2015 by Ashley Mayers
 

Frequently Asked Questions

*Contains Spoilers*

This series has seven books. Do I have to start at the beginning?

Yes. To get the most out of the series, you should start at the beginning and read the books in order. There is important context upon which the series is built in the first pages of the first book, especially in "Chapter One - Introductions." That said, what you read in the first book for the first time should not be taken entirely at face value. Many readers notice that the timeline seems off and that certain details (such as Shanti’s gray hair) are amiss. These mysteries are intentional and should be noted, as they will be explained throughout the following books. As the series progresses, layers of new context are revealed that will change everything about all that came before, so devoted readers are advised to re-read the first book after finishing the third book. Many clues that were not obvious upon the first reading will become clear at that point, adding another layer of intrigue as the story unfolds in the second half of the series.

 

Is this series intended to be religious?

No. Above all, as a modern fantasy epic, this series is meant to entertain, to keep readers company on a rainy day or a monotonous train ride, and to offer readers of any cultural background a plethora of intriguing, relatable characters whose triumphs and tribulations can give them inspiration and help them feel like they are not alone as they deal with the complicated challenges of the modern world in their own lives. The humor, romance, adventure, and informal language of the series all reflect this distinction. It is not meant to replace the Ramayana, and readers who wish to study the ancient epics directly have many options of annotated versions available in a wide variety of translations to choose from, including several for free on Amazon.

It is important to acknowledge here, however, that the Ramayana means something very personal to millions of people. To some it's religious, to some it's historical, and to some it is one of the finest examples of epic literature in the history of the world. The epic has been reinterpreted countless times throughout the last several thousand years because the story itself speaks to people about universal truths that resonate regardless of their cultural backgrounds. This series contains one person's interpretation of those universal truths, but there is a reason that the epic has undergone so much scholarship and has garnered such controversy throughout the ages. In short, it means different things to different people. And so, the author went into this endeavor with the dream that everyone will love it, but the recognition that some people might hate it, depending on what the epic means to them. The author's sincerest hope is that regardless of whether readers love or hate the series, that through reading it, they will find something valuable, thought-provoking, and inspiring that they can take with them long past the final pages.

 

Do readers have to understand Hindu cultural references to enjoy this series?

No. This series was specifically designed to be equally engaging for readers who are familiar with the Ramayana, and readers who are not. Readers who are familiar with the references will likely notice a level of depth that readers who do not recognize the references might miss, however, the story itself makes clear the context that an uninitiated reader must know to engage actively. A glossary is included in the back of each book for readers who would like more depth, however reading it is not required for the enjoyment of the series.

This series was inspired by the Ramayana. What exactly does that mean?

This series is a completely new story written as a modern, global continuation of the ancient Indian epic. It is *not* a re-telling of the ancient story, nor is it limited to referencing the Ramayana, as several of the primary heroines are incarnations of Shakti's forms, and the primary arc is focused on the demon Kali and the Kali Yuga transition, referenced in the Kalki, Vishnu, and Padma Puranas. The premise of the series is that many of the main characters in the Ramayana did not die at the end of the epic, and they have continued on, fighting secret battles between darkness and light in an increasingly global context for the last several thousand years. Certain characters, such as Vibhishana and Hanuman, who are considered “Chiranjivi” (immortal beings who remain on Earth to guide humans), have fulfilled their sacred duties since ancient times, changing their tactics as the world changes around them to maximize their effectiveness, while the human avatar characters, including Rama and Sita, have been continuously reincarnated. Rama maintains all of his memories throughout that process, but Sita does not. And thus, the modern story begins.

 

This series addresses many controversial topics. How is that related to the Ramayana?

In writing the series, the author took great care to dig deep, reading translations of Valmiki, Kambar, and scholarly works, as well as discussing the philosophy, literary concepts, and controversies of the works with Hindu scholars. However, readers who expect the series to simply repeat the same stories from the Ramayana in a modern setting will be disappointed. The point of the series was not to repeat something that was already told perfectly before.

 

Instead, the series explores many of the fundamental concepts embodied in the Ramayana in a modern context, in particular, the characters’ struggles between divinity and humanity as they navigate moral gray areas (ie, situations in which there is not one clear path to dharma, such as Vibhishana’s decision in the Ramayana to betray his family and his race to aid Rama). The modern story addresses gray areas that are directly relevant in today’s world and include references to sex, violence, religious and political conflicts, racism, gender identity, the legacy of colonialism, and many other topics that remain controversial today, just as many of the topics addressed head on in Valmiki’s Ramayana, including kidnapping, rape, war, race, and the prioritization of conflicting duties, were (and still remain) controversial.

 

Above all, the series explores what happens when the characters are faced with a set of complex options, all of which involve some ‘right’ and some ‘wrong’ aspects that need to be balanced and prioritized. The concept that a single choice can be both right and wrong at the same time, and that there are good and bad consequences to every decision regardless of positive or negative intent is actually somewhat foreign to most western religions, as they tend to focus on the idea that x is 100% right and y is 100% wrong, x being whatever one’s religious institution tells them, and y being anything that deviates from that. However, Valmiki’s Ramayana is extremely rich in showing the complexity of navigating these “right + wrong” choices that are so common in real life, and so, the author was very conscious of demonstrating this fundamental complexity in the modern series. Just a few examples include: Vibhishana’s encounter with the slave traders in the fourth book, Supriya’s family’s struggle between lying and telling her truths that will hurt her, Shanti’s self-sacrificing quest to save her doomed husband, Neha’s struggle to be true to herself while balancing the great burden of representing her race to the human world, Rahul and Rama’s guilt at taking lives in battle despite their belief in the necessity of the war, and Shanti and Vibhishana’s agonizing decisions about whether to do things that many people (including them) consider morally reprehensible for the sake of “the greater good.” Just as in Valmiki’s Ramayana, throughout the series it is often difficult to decide which imperfect choice is the “right” one, and so, as the characters in the modern series struggle to make decisions that have simultaneous right and wrong aspects, they often suffer, because regardless of their positive intentions, doing what they think is best is often painful, just as it is in so many instances in the Ramayana, including in the complicated relationship between Rama and Sita.

 

Another major concept from Valmiki’s Ramayana that is very explicit throughout the modern series is the idea that it is not what you are that defines your virtue, but how you act. In Valmiki’s Ramayana, there are positive and negative examples of humans, Rakshasas, Vanaras, kings, queens, etc. The idea that Rama would accept Vibhishana as an ally, despite the fact that he is a demon, is an important aspect of Rama’s character, because he is judging Vibhishana as an individual, rather than as a stereotyped member of his race. And so, the author takes great care to embed this concept in the series by using a plethora of contrasting archetypes throughout all seven books. For people who identify with one particular group, this may initially come across as a negative representation (for example, the characters of Divya and Grace in the second book do not demonstrate positive examples of Christians), however, these representations are always contrasted with an opposing archetype, in the case of Christians, Father Flannigan and James Rutherford, both of whom overcome various personal pitfalls to help key characters triumph at important junctures. Similarly, we have examples of “good” fathers with Rahul and Vibhishana, versus “bad” fathers with Ravana and Raghav, and even “good” politicians and “bad” politicians with Joe Terzakis versus Todd Shafer. It is especially important to note that almost none of the characters who are portrayed as “bad” archetypes see themselves as such, nor do they always remain entirely “good” or “bad” as their actions throughout the series define their characters with increasing complexity. Even Ravana, throughout all of the horrific things he does, believes that he is righteous in his actions. This moral ambiguity is intentional, and is very much in line with Valmiki’s representations of the same concepts in the Ramayana.

 

Finally, the author was careful to maintain key characterizations from Valmiki’s Ramayana for those characters in the modern story. Hanuman, for example, remains above all else, loyal to Rama. Vibhishana remains willing to do things that are amoral in one sense for the sake of the greater good. When he first wakes up from his long sleep, Kumbhakarna remains trapped in his loyalty to Ravana, even though he believes that Ravana’s actions are wrong. Sita, who appears as herself only in one scene in the sixth book, maintains the calm, loyal, regal character that defines her in the ancient Ramayana, and Rama, as the well-meaning king who is defined by his struggle for ultimate virtue, remains just that, with thousands of years of extra experience under his belt. The character who deviates the most from the Valmiki representation is really Ravana, who is painted in this series as a distinct villain who has devolved over time from the Rakshasa king he started out as in ancient times before he kidnapped Sita, to the meddling monster that he is now after thousands of years of spiralling darkness and power corruption. However, by the second half of the series, even he maintains much of the complexity of his original character, as he voices his true motives for his dubious exploits in the later books.

 

Why is the series called THE SITA CHRONICLES?

The question of whether Supriya, one of the primary protagonists, is a modern incarnation of Sita or not, and what Sita’s ancient legacy means for her as a modern heroine, is a primary concept that is explored throughout all seven books of the series, especially in books one, two, five and six. It is intertwined with the larger question of what it takes for women to transcend all that holds them back to be the heroes that they need to be in the modern world. Sita did what she thought was necessary to keep the peace in the ancient world, but does Supriya need to repeat Sita’s choices? What would happen if Supriya chose something different, especially something that Sita might consider amoral? This complex question embodies the internal struggle that many people feel between tradition and modernity, and it is a primary concept throughout the series.

 

The Ramayana takes place in India and Sri Lanka. Why does the modern story use settings outside of Southeast Asia?

What it would take for the characters from the ancient epic to be leaders in the modern world (and how this is different from what it took for them to be leaders in the ancient world) is another primary concept that is explored throughout the series. In the modern story, their required leadership is not geographically limited to Southeast Asia––the series and the characters are operating at a global scale––and the diversity of the modern characters and settings reflect this distinction, with settings throughout the series focused in India, Sri Lanka, the US, the UK, France, Australia, and many other places. This geographic diversity is not unprecedented in Hindu scripture, as Lord Kalki, the Tenth Avatar of Vishnu, is said to come from Shambhala, a mythical village somewhere in the vicinity of Tibet/Mongolia. Even when the puranas that reference Lord Kalki were written, scholars, poets and rishis were thinking about the origins of the future avatars in a far off land, and that precedent is continued in this series with a modern twist. It should also be noted that all of the characters in the modern story (except Ravana) maintain a deep love for their original homes as they return often to Vibhishana’s Sri Lankan kingdom, Rama’s secret compound in Kerala, and Supriya’s family’s ancestral estate in Baroda, all of which serve as primary settings throughout all seven books.

 

The language used in the series is very informal. Some characters even have nicknames. Why?

The characters are living in the modern world, and their dialogue, written in modern English, is meant to be accessible to modern readers, both those who are familiar with the ancient epics, and those who will be introduced to them for the first time through this series. The premise of the series is that the characters are alive today and that they have succeeded in participating in human societies for thousands of years, and to do so, from a practical perspective, they would be required to speak many modern languages, including English. The series deals with their language skills in depth, as it is one of their unique divine talents to communicate in every language. This detail was not simply invented for storytelling convenience. It is actually a nod to the unique diversity of representations of the Ramayana that can be found throughout the world, not only in India, where it exists in hundreds (possibly thousands) of translations in local Indian languages, but all the way from Thailand to Indonesia, and indeed, all the way to Britain, Australia, and the Americas. Despite the limiting truth that Valmiki’s poetry is best enjoyed in Sanskrit, the universal truths of an epic as great as the Ramayana can transcend any one language, and so, why would the characters, as they go about their business in the modern world, not speak in the language that their audience understands? It is, in fact, an important aspect of their characters that they are willing and able to communicate universally, just as the ancient epic itself does.

 

This series is supposed to have strong female leads, but there are several instances throughout the books where women are not making good choices. Shanti, in particular, does many things that a strong female lead shouldn’t do. Why?

This series contains several hero journeys - Supriya, Shanti, Neha, and Sabrina all must work to transcend the many barriers (internal and external) that are holding them back, and how to do that is not always obvious. They are often faced with imperfect choices, and especially at the beginning of their journeys, they do not have the experience to help them navigate their crooked paths flawlessly. It is only through making their decisions and living through the consequences that they can become their strongest selves, and therefore, they do not start out with perfect judgment. This makes them very human, and it makes their struggles more relevant to the real world, where women are often forced to follow a crooked path before they can find their own inner strength. Additionally, the use of seven women’s stories (Rupa’s, Mélusine’s, and Shaheen’s in addition to the four hero journeys), are meant to demonstrate that there is not one single definition of what a “strong woman” should be. Some are married, some are not. Some are extroverts, and some are introverts. None of them are forced to act like a man in order to be strong. Their characters and their talents are intentionally diverse, but in the end, they are the driving force, in each of their own ways, in the battle to save the worlds.

 

The Cambrian Explosion mentioned in Neha’s lecture in the sixth book is a real scientific concept. How many other details in the series are based on facts?

Lots! Every time a real world detail could be incorporated into the series, it was - especially unexplained mysteries. Therefore, googling many of the references throughout the series will produce satisfying results. Some examples:

 

Historical:

  • The “extraterrestrial” red rain in Kerala

  • Rommel’s mysterious time behind Allied lines in North Africa and his subsequent participation in the July 20th plot to assassinate Hitler

  • Himmler’s bizarre obsession with the occult and his surprising attempt at a last minute peace treaty

  • The Prince Regent’s (George IV’s) unusual obsession with Indian architecture, his illegal Catholic wife, his abuse of the royal purse, and his hedonistic reputation

  • The “auto-da-fe” during the Spanish Inquisition

  • Reports of Nero burning Christians to light his courtyard

  • The outlawing of Bacchanalia cults for deviance by the Roman senate

  • The Bengal famine during WWII, killing an estimated 3 million people

  • The First Indian Infantry’s successes in important battles on the North African Front in WWII

  • The horror of life in the trenches on the western front in Belgium in WWI and the impact of chemical attacks and shell shock on many soldiers who were forced to spend years there

  • The Women’s Auxiliary Corps role in India and elsewhere

  • The London College of Medicine for women (now part of UCL), and its program for Indian students before and after Indian Independence

  • The Loma Prieta earthquake on October 17, 1989

 

Scientific:

  • The Cambrian Explosion coinciding with the timeline of an unexplained “catastrophic event” on Venus

  • The Snowball Earth theory

  • The role of co-evolution in the development of the diversity of phyla in Earth history, particularly during and after the Cambrian Explosion

  • Einstein-Rosen Bridges, and the use of dark matter in the theoretical construction of traversable wormholes

  • The theorized impact of a runaway greenhouse effect on Earth - on the environment and on human societies (including flooding, disease outbreaks, and governmental/economic collapse)

  • Undiscovered bosons

  • The double polar vortex on the south pole of Venus

  • The science of geomagnetic storms/solar wind and their impact on Earth

  • SETI’s search for extraterrestrial life

  • The creation of new particles by the Hadron Collider at CERN

So, are there Rakshasas on Venus?

How awesome would it be if there were? Fans of science fiction will agree that the concept of non-corporeal beings inhabiting the vaporous clouds on other worlds is not unique, although it has rarely, if ever, been applied to the context of Venus, or applied to a "mercury-based" life form that exists as different phases on different planets. While there are mentions of multiple worlds throughout Hindu literature, including in various stories relating to Kali Yuga, the origin of the Rakshasa race on Venus is one detail that was entirely made up by the author. There is no reference in any epic, including the Ramayana, to Rakshasas being from Venus. They are often depicted as shapeshifting demons with their shapeshifting mechanism remaining vague. There are also varying descriptions of the Rakshasas' demonic forms, with Ravana's consistently being depicted as one of the more ghoulish ones with his ten heads, versus the more mild depictions of characters like Surpanakha, who is often depicted looking more like a vampire, and Vibhishana, who is almost never depicted as a demon at all. Similarly, Yakshas do exist in many ancient texts from Southeast Asia, but their depictions as nature spirits are relatively diverse, without one clear origin story. The character of Kuveni who arrives in the second half of the series does, however, have her origins in ancient Sri Lankan literature. And so, the author took the liberty to invent the elaborate history of these two races that is described in great detail in the series, especially in the sixth book.  

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