Indian Tradition is said to be based on Sanskrit language [Sanskriti Sanskritashrita]. Ramayana and Mahabharata are two giant pillars of Indian cultural tradition which have nurtured generations of India.  Indians feel proud to be part of a land which has such glorious past. The respect and popularity which Ramayana has earned in Indian tradition has not been attained by any other book.

Sage Valmiki is known as the first poet in Sanskrit literature. Even in Buddha literature from Tibet and China, references to Ramayana can be found. At the Shiva temples on Java islands there are sculptures which narrate the story of Ramayana. Some of the famous creations of great poets’ like Kalidasa [कालिदास], Bhasa [भास], Bhavbhooti [भवभूती], Rajshekhar [राजशेखर], Murari [मुरारी], Jaydev [जयदेव]   are based on Ramayana. In India Ramayana is translated into all regional languages. Tulsidasa’s [तुलसीदास] Ramcharitmanas [रामचरितमानस] is one of these most popular translations of Ramayana in Hindi language. Even many Indian festivals are celebrated according to the events in Ramayana.

Lord Rama was born on Ramnavami [रामनवमी] {9th day of the first fortnight of Hindu month Chaitra [चैत्र]}

Vijayadashmi [विजयादशमी] i.e. Dassehara -Lord Rama killed Ravana [रावण] on this day {10th day of the first fortnight of Hindu month Aashwin[आश्विन]and

Diwali [दीपावली] on this day Lord Rama returned to Ayodhya {the last day of 2nd fortnight of month of Aashwin [आश्विन]} which is also celebrated as Laxmipoojan [लक्ष्मीपूजन]. Thus this epic of Sage Valmiki [वाल्मीकी] has greatly contributed to the happiness of people.

Many scholars have different theories about the development of Ramayana story. Many of them think that this whole story was not written at a stretch. It developed since Vedic times.  In Rugveda there is mention of Rama’s name at one place [10.93.14], Seeta is also mentioned at one place as Goddess of agriculture [4.57.6-7]. Brahmins and Aaranyakas also give some references of history and Puranas. At some places these two are said to be the ‘Fifth Veda’. At times of sacrifices and other religious activities stories from Aarsh Mahakavyas used to be told by historians. Thus we can assume that this story of Ramayan existed from Vedic times, which has gradually got its present form over a period of time.

Seeing a female heron lamenting for her husband who was killed by an arrow of a hunter; Sage Valmiki uttered a verse to curse that hunter.

मा निषाद प्रतिष्ठां त्वमगमः शाश्वतीः समाः।

यत्क्रौञ्चमिथुनादेकमवधीः काममोहितम्।।

Ma nishada pratishtham tvamagamah shashvatih samah |

Yatkrauncamithunadekamavadhih kamamihitam ||

“Oh! Hunter you will not attain happiness or fame for long time as you have killed one of the pair of Herons which were engrossed in lovemaking”.

That was the first occurrence of ‘Anushtup’ [अनुष्टुप्] meter on earth after Vedas. Hearing this poetic verse Lord Brahma appeared there and suggested to Sage Valmiki to write the life story of Lord Rama in ‘Anushtup’ [अनुष्टुप्] meter. Accordingly Sage Valmiki wrote the great epic of ‘Ramayana’. Sage Valmiki is also known as the first one to write in Anushtup [अनुष्टुप्] meter.

As defined by western scholars an epic should describe a great and noble story with lots of action. The lead characters must be from a noble family or of royal lineage. The virtues in that epic should be excellent and feasible to follow. And the story should be written in proper meter. All these are applicable to Ramayana. The story of Lord Rama is well known in India to elders as well as to tiny tots.

The Structure of Ramayana

Ramayana is divided in seven kandas and twenty four thousand verses so it is also known as Chaturvimshatisahasrisamhita [चतुर्विम्शतिसाहस्री सम्हिता].These seven kandas are

  1. Balkanda [बालकाण्ड] describes the birth of Lord Rama.
  2. Ayodhyakand [अयोध्याकाण्ड] has the description of Rama’s education, protecting the sacrifice of Sage Vishvamitra [विश्वामित्र], Marriage with Seeta then preparing to go to exile and departure for forest.
  3. Aranyakand [अरण्यकाण्ड] narrates the exile and kidnapping of Seeta by Ravana [रावण].
  4. Kishkindhakand [किष्किन्धाकाण्ड] describes the efforts taken by Rama and Laxmana [लक्ष्मण] to search for Seeta. Friendship with Monkey king Sugriva [सुग्रीव] and arrival of Hanuman at the banks of southern ocean in search of Seeta.
  5. Sundarkand [सुन्दरकाण्ड] here, Hanuman reaches Lanka and finds out the place where Ravana [रावण] has kept Seeta.
  6. Yuddhkand [युद्धकाण्ड] has descriptions of the battle between Rama and Ravana [रावण], Fall of Lanka and the demons, fire purification of Seeta, Rama’s arrival in Ayodhya [अयोध्या], and crowning ceremony of Rama as king of Ayodhya.
  7. Uttarkanda [उत्तरकाण्ड] describes Lord Rama abandoning Seeta, Ashwamedh [अश्वमेध] Sacrifice and the end.

Many sub-stories are also mentioned along with the story of Ramayan. Most of them are in Balkanda [बालकाण्ड] and Uttarkanda [उत्तरकाण्ड]. Vamanavtar [वामनावतार], Birth of Kartikeya [कार्तिकेय], Arrival of River Ganga on earth [गङ्गावतरण], Samudramanthan [समुद्रमन्थन] and story of Sage Valmiki and the Hunter which led to the creation of Ramayana are in Balkanda [बालकाण्ड]. While story of Yayati [ययाति], story of Nahush [नहुष], Story of destruction of Vrutrasura [वृत्रासुर], story of Pururava [पुरुरवा], and Urvashi [उर्वशी], and story of Shambook [शम्बूक] are in Uttarkanda [उत्तरकाण्ड]. Obviously these stories come with reference to the main story. However because of the large number of sub stories in these two kandas, curiosity about the main story part of Ramayana increases. There are many who claim that the story ended with Yuddhkanda [युद्धकाण्ड]. First and last Kanda have number of sub stories which interrupt the flow of main story. Researchers think that these kandas were added or edited later. The language, style and structure from Ayodhyakand [अयोध्याकाण्ड] to Yuddhkand [युद्धकाण्ड] are different than first and last kanda. From second to sixth kanda Sage Valmiki has presented Rama as an ‘Ideal Man’ but Balkanda [बालकाण्ड] and Uttarkanda [उत्तरकाण्ड] describe him as the Avatar of Lord Vishnu. One more reason to doubt about the originality of first and last kanda is there are two indexes in Balkanda in first and third chapters. In one of them first and seventh kandas are not mentioned. With reference to all these points, Scholar Jacobi thinks that original Ramayan contains only five Kandas, from Ayodhyakand [अयोध्याकाण्ड] to Yuddhkand [युद्धकाण्ड], and the other two kandas were attached later. So we may conclude that the original story starts from the fifth Sarga [सर्ग] of today’s Balkanda. One other opinion says that according to internal proofs different parts of Ramayana were written at different times.

Professor Webber thinks that Ramayana story is ‘metaphoric’. It describes how the Aryan culture developed/ spread in India. He thinks that Seeta is the goddess of agriculture; she was kidnapped by demons means Non-Aryans, and to release her Rama who was an Aryan defeated demons. Professor Lassen says that Ramayana is a metaphor which explains the victory of Aryans in southern India. According to Rameshchandra Datt, Seeta is goddess of agriculture or ploughed land. Rama is Lord Indra [इन्द्र]. In Guhyasutra [गुह्यसूत्र] ploughed land is called ‘wife of Lord Indra’[इन्द्र]. Ravana [रावण] is drought. This drought takes away Seeta meaning it destroys agriculture so Rama representing Indra [इन्द्र] kills Ravana [रावण] that is drought. In short Ramayana is an agriculture related metaphor.

Dashrathjataka [दशरथजातक] is one famous Jataka in Bauddha literature, the same verse from Ramayana can be found in this book This Jataka is written in the third century before Vikram Year. So Ramayana must have been written before that.

Editions and Commentaries of Ramayana

In many regions of India different editions of Ramayana are popular. In the editions of northern India, Bengal and Kashmir, there are many different texts, in some whole chapters are different.

Among many commentaries of Ramayana Tilak [तिलक] commentary of Nagesh is more popular. Other than this, Srungartilak [शृङ्गारतिलक] of Govindraj, Ramayankuta of Ramanadtirth, Vivektilak of Varadraj are few commentaries which are famous. Nagesh has mentioned Katak [कतक] commentary which is the most ancient commentary on Ramayana. Many editions of Ramayana are in use. Devanagari [देवनागरी] edition published in Mumbai with commentary of Nagojibhatta [नागोजीभट्ट], Bengal edition with Loknath’s [लोकनाथ] commentary, Kashmir edition which is mainly used in North India and south Indian edition which is very much similar with Devanagari [देवनागरी] edition. It is difficult to decide which one is original.

Period of Ramayana

Time of Ramayana can be decided by various parameters. Mahabharata is also known as Aarsh [आर्ष] epic. There are no references of Mahabharata or a person in Mahabharata in Ramayana. But the story of Ramayana is mentioned in Mahabharata {VanParva 277-291[वनपर्व 277-291]}. This proves that this story is taken from Ramayana. And two verses from Yuddhkand [युद्धकाण्ड] are in Dron Parva [द्रोणपर्व. This proves that Ramayana precedes Mahabharata.

Ramayana is written even before Pali literature. Prof. Jacobi thinks that Bauddha literature has the impact of Ramayana. Sage Valmiki’s Sanskrit language seems to be the spoken language and it does not have any impression of Panini’s grammatical rules. So it must have been written before Ashtadhyayi [अष्टाध्यायी].

Lord Ram represents the Ideal Man in Hindu, Buddha and Jain religions. There are many references related to Ramayana in Buddha and Jain literature. Jain poet Vimalsuri [विमलसूरि] has written Prakrit [प्राकृत] epic Pum Chariy [पऊम चरिय] in 62 A.D. Poet Ashwaghosh [अश्वघोष] [72 A.D.] has also used many beautiful similes from Sundarkanda [सुन्दरकाण्ड] of Ramayana. Dashratha Jataka [दशरथजातक] is also very famous. Although it is difficult to decide the exact time of Jatakas [जातक], they are tentatively thought to be written in the 3rd century A.D. Many studies show that Ramayana must have been written before 500 B.C.

There are many other points which indicate the period of Ramayana. In Ramayana Ayodhya [अयोध्या] is said to be the capital of Kasal [कोसल] region. But Bauddha and Jain poets as well as Greek scholars mentioned Saket [साकेत] as the capital of Kasal [कोसल]. Patanjali has also mentioned Ayodhya [अयोध्या] as Saket [साकेत] [अरुणत्साकेतम् यवनः] in 2nd century B.C. so when Ramayana was written Ayodhya [अयोध्या] was not known as Saket [साकेत] or in other words it was written before Buddha and Jain literature. Buddha and Jain literature exist after 500 B.C.

Pataliputra [पाटलिपुत्र] city is not mentioned in Ramayana. This city was developed by the king of Magadh [मगध] Ajatshatru [अजातशत्रु] before 380 B.C. In Balkanda [बालकाण्ड] there is mention of two different cities Vaishali [वैशाली] and Mithila [मिथिला]. These were combined afterwards to become Vaishali [वैशाली] city in Buddha era. Ramayana was therefore written before before 500 B.C.

The tradition of ‘Sati’ [सती] is not mentioned in Ramayana. Whereas in Mahabharata it is clearly mentioned that Madri [माद्री] followed the Sati tradition. Historians confirm that this tradition was being practiced in India since 300 B.C.  So Ramayana was written before Mahabharata and that time was before 500B.C.

Poetic Value of Ramayana

Ramayana is a great creation of Sage Valmiki. It is known as Aadikavya [आदिकाव्य] i.e. first sacred epic in Sanskrit Literature. Kalidas [कालिदास] and many other poets have taken ideas and inspiration for their epics and poetic work. Ramayana is rich in both language and meaning. Verses are very simple but have great impact on readers because of their meaning. Sage Valmiki has revealed the natural and inbuilt beauty of Sanskrit language. The poet has used simple, straight, sweet language in the epic, similes are used to enhance the beauty of the story but those are not artificial and used only where they are necessary. Sage Valmiki has also described seasons very well in Ramayana. Kalidasa [कालिदास] may have got the inspiration for Rutusamhara [ऋतुसम्हार] from Ramayana. Description of winter in Aranyakanda [अरण्यकाण्ड], descriptions of rainy and autumn season in Kishkindha kanda [किष्किन्धाकाण्ड] are unique. Sage Valmiki’s power of imagination and keen observations are reflected at many places in Ramayana, description of Seeta in Ashokvatika [अशोकवाटिका] in Sundarkanda [सुन्दरकाण्ड] seem very realistic. Similes in Ramayana are pleasant and beautiful. An idea is not explained through one simile but with a series of similes and each one is better than its predecessor. Generally epics are famous for the sentiment of bravery but Ramayana is famous for the greatness of Lord Ram. Sentiment of misery and sorrow is prominent in Ramayana.

Ramayana- a symbol of Indian Tradition

 Ramayana has been studied by Indian as well as foreign scholars in various aspects. Ancient Indian culture is reflected in Ramayana. It is said that Lord Rama spread Aryan culture in southern India. In his journey to south starting from Ganga River in north, Sage Valmiki has shared very useful geographical details of that time. Thus Ramayana is not only the origin or inspiration for later literary works and poets but it is a very useful means of knowing the social, economic, and political conditions in that era.

Lord Rama is known as the most ideal person in Indian culture. Rama – ideal son, Seeta [सीता] – ideal wife, Laxman [लक्ष्मण] and Bharat [भरत] – ideal brothers, Sugreev [सुग्रीव] and Bibhishana [बिभीषण] – ideal friends, thus Ramayana has represented Idealism in the world. When Rama ruled, Ayodhya [अयोध्या] had become an ideal kingdom and people were happy and satisfied. After that any king who ruled well and whose subjects were happy and satisfied his kingdom used to be known as RamaRajya [रामराज्य].

Thus Valmiki’s Ramayana has earned a special place in the minds of all Indians as well as foreigners. It has spread happiness in Indian society.

It is truly said by Adikavi Valmiki [आदिकवी वाल्मीकी] that “until there are mountains and rivers on this earth, till then the story of Ramayana will exist in this world”.

यावत्स्थास्यन्ति गिरयः सरितश्च महीतले।

तावद्रामायणकथा लोकेषु प्रचरिष्यति।।

Yavatthasyamti girayah saritashca mahitale |

Tavadramayanakatha lokeshu pracarishyati ||

References

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