The Ramayana, with brass lock and key, is still in regular use by the fourth generation descendants of the man who brought it across the seas from Calcutta. The next two generations are already in the wings to inherit the priceless artefact.
Although the specific details are lost in time due to little oral information having been passed on, Ranie Ramparsadh of Lenasia in Gauteng province believes that the well-weathered Ramayana was brought on one of the first ships that brought indentured labourers from India to South Africa in 1860.
He was the great-grandfather of her husband Devkaran Ramparsadh (better known as Billy), Hariduth Banya Shah, who left his native Lucknow to seek new fortunes in South Africa.
Next it was handed over to Shah's son Kalishah Harduth, who eventually settled in Newclare in Johannesburg amd in turn passed it on to Billy’s father, Ramparsadh Harduth.
Billy’s 46-year-old son Colin will be next in line to become the custodian of the special Ramayana, which she painstakingly preserves in a special red cloth. After him, his five year-old son Abhishek will be entrusted to look after this religious and cultural heritage.
"I found the Ramayana here when I moved into the family home after our marriage in 1961 and it has remained a guiding light since then for us and our six children – Cheryl Govender, 48; Colin, 46; Anesh, 45, Renier, 43, Alasha Meghraj, 39, and Ilona, 34," Ranie said.
"Except for Ilona, who is still with us, the others are now all married, and on their own in various parts of the world. But they still maintain their religious practices which the big Ramayana and regular reading therefrom on special occasions set the tone for," said Ranie.
She said that despite its fragile pages, "the Ramayana has been a source of comfort at times of need and delivered guidance and inspiration whenever it was needed".
Ranie pointed out the lock and key still works, and the faded hand-engraved message on the leather cover which appears to indicate that the Ramayana was a gift specially made for someone leaving on the big trip to a new land.
"Besides being a family heirloom, which I will be proud to one day have the honour of looking after, the Ramayana has also made me rethink the sacrifices and tribulations that our forebears went through," said Colin, a self-employed media consultant.
"They battled to give us the opportunities that we have today, and I will make sure that my son Abhishek also never forgets this," he said with tears in his eyes.