Book – Ramayana of Valmiki
Original Author – Maharashi Valmiki (Translated by Ralph T. H. Griffith)
Date – Treta Yuga
Available – in various interpretations – ranging from a version of Tulsidas’s Ramcharitmanas to a more modern take on it by various authors.
Those of you who know the characters and plot well, you may jump directly to the Critique
Dashratha – King of Ayodhya, husband of Kaushalya, Kaikeyi and Sumitra, father of Rama, Bharatha, Lakshmana and Shatrughna
Kaushalya – Eldest wife of Dashratha and mother of Prince Rama
Kaikeyi – 2nd wife of Dashratha and mother of Bharata
Sumitra – youngest wife of Dashratha and mother of Lakshmana and Shatrughna
Prince Rama – Eldest son of Dashratha, main protagonist
Sita – daughter of Janaka, king of Mithila – she is found by him in a hole, wife of Prince Rama
Lakshmana – younger brother of Rama, faithful follower and companion throughout the account
Bharata – younger brother of Rama, mother Kaikeyi’s tricky ways makes him eligible to be King of Ayodhya, but his righteousness gets the better of her jealousy and he remains a loyal first in command till the rightful heir Rama returns to his throne
Shatrughna – youngest brother of Rama
Shurpanakha – Rakshasi, sister of Ravana – the Lanka king
Sugriva – leader of the monkeys
Ravana – King of Lanka
Hanumana – disciple of Rama, his follower and co- warrior
Ramayana is a story told in poem form, by memory (Smruti) about an Indian prince Rama, who is an incarnation of Lord Vishnu and his presence on earth in human form was as the prince of Ayodhya. This story revolves around him, his exile from his kingdom, his survival with his wife Sita, and brother Lakshmana in the forests. The core of the account starts with Ravana, the Lanka king treacherously kidnapping Sita. This is because the Rakshasi Shurpanakha, who is Ravanas sister is luring the two brothers, her attempts do not heed and she tries to kill them. Lakshmana in rage cuts off her nose and ears. Rama’s search for his beloved leads him to Kishkinda, where he meets his trusted disciple Hanumana. Together with him, Sugriva and their army of ape soldiers they march to the Lankan lands, literally walking over the sea to recover Sita. A gruesome battle is fought, Ravana succumbs and our conqueror returns home victorious.
The story combines of all human attributes all engulfed into a single life, there is jealousy, there is drama, politics, there is love, there is devotion, suffering, war and killing, victory and elation, a bit of science fiction too (monkey people – anyone say Planet of the Apes, in Valmiki times) and modern architecture (built a bridge over water with floating rocks). They have also figured out complex genetics here, since the King Dashratha as the story opens has been childless for several years, but after a ‘Putra – kameshti Yagya’ and he has 4 sons!! Valmiki, one may concede was well aware of the subtleties of human tendencies and their implications. The temptations we give into, the emotional ball game and how women use it to their advantage, the power game and how one can yield it to manipulate people. In the entire account, there is mention of how those who were eligible for position of power were tricked by those close to them, whether it was Rama, Sugriva or one can even argue Ravana, he banished his brother Vibhishana since he opposed the kidnapping of pious Sita.
Rama the protagonist is the most complex character – he follows the path of ‘dharma’ which means doing the right thing no matter what the consequences are. When his parents ask him to relinquish the throne, he does so to maintain respect of elders. When he sees someone doing wrong, he gives them an opportunity to recover but if they do not, he does not hesitate from even killing them for their deed. For the ones who are closest to him and his most loyal followers, he is willing to go to any extent to protect them. His love for Sita is so true, that he over came all adversities and arduous circumstances to recover her, but his trust in her was as blind as the God of Justice, he abstained her as wife for lack of evidence to prove her sanctity for the time she spent as Ravana’s captive.
The character of Sita is most intriguing, she is found by Janaka, and considered daughter of Mother Earth, her eventual end also is defined as she succumbs into the Earth. She is brought up a warrior princess, pious and revered she follows he husband’s footsteps as he leads her into exile, giving up her princely possessions and living a hand to mouth existence. Even when she is kidnapped she does not give in to her temptations and remains a one man woman, yet her fidelity is challenged by society but she vehemently stands up to their questions, after being exiled by her own husband she raised 2 sons on her own. It could be argued that she started concept of single mother hood back then.
There is every reason for this work to be an EPIC as it is rightly termed so – Valmiki has encapsulated human qualities so vividly in the text, that every man walking face of the Earth is a Rama, or some shade of his, personifying his qualities as a son, a brother, a ruler, a warrior, a lover and a husband and above all as human. His depiction of society and system in those Treta Yuga times, are so relevant even now. We still depend on hero worship, we still want someone else to fight our battles, and we still believe that it will be someone else’s good deeds and sacrifices that will bring peace and harmony to our lives. We still believe (some of us do) it will take God in human form to resolve all evils and vices of the universe while we can only wait and watch for him to appear. Valmiki in his works has expressed the detailed outline of hurt, anger, pain and suffering of Rama’s life, yet we look at it and seek to get inspiration from this. Had he psycho analyzed our race to be such that feeds on the deplorable situation of others? I have often wondered how many actually empathize with character of Rama? For all that he has endeared through out this entire account of events has been full of deceit, mistrust, suffering and loneliness to some extent. What was the Ramayana then – a glorified account of a family dispute, co scripted with love, war and separation? The best thing about Valmiki’s Ramayana is that it his only work, which has revolved around many human generations and there are many unanswered questions about it, many theories and speculations circulate it. There are the staunch believers and the ardent atheists, but there are few such novella in history of mankind to have generated such interest and for that he does deserve a Nobel!!
Note – the satire in the critique is not intended to offend anyone’s personal or religious views.